Disclaimer: You’ll notice that the superstars of the NBA (Lebron, Durant, Rose, Harden, etc) have been excluded from this list. There is a reason for that, and its overexposure. Yeah, they are incredibly entertaining to watch, but this list focuses on the newer blood of the NBA. This trio of players have been around the league for a few years but 2013-14 is their coming out party, and you definitely do not want to miss it.
Kyrie Irving – PG – Cleveland Cavaliers
When I’m looking for pure entertainment value there are a few characteristics that stand out, and one of those just so happens to be a Kyrie Irving specialty; the ability to embarrass an opponent on any given play. His tool set (quickness, control, vision, and handle) is tailor made for forcing defenders into self-inflicted shameful moments. All it really takes is one misstep in any direction and it’s over.
Of course there is so much more to Irving’s game than just his shiftiness. He is arguably one of the best ballhandlers in the NBA, is extremely deadly beyond arc (3rd in 3P% amongst PG’s who averaged 30+ minutes in 2012-13) and can seemingly get to the rim at will. All in all, he might be one of the most gifted offensive PG’s in an era that is dominated by elite PG’s. The only real question mark about his game (other than his less than stellar defensive play) is whether he can be an effective distributor. So far that question hasn’t been fair. He has yet to play with a legitimate big man (unless you count Anderson Varejao) or a consistent three point threat. He still doesn’t have the three point sniper but the addition of Andrew Bynum (if healthy) might give him someone to play the pick and roll with. That added element should open up a few more lanes for Irving, finally giving him the chance to distribute instead of just look for his own shot.
All of that pales in comparison to the biggest reason that Irving is a must watch during the 2013-14; the potential transition from star to superstar. Anytime you have the chance to witness that kind of evolution you have to take it, and as of right now Kyrie Irving is the closest to making that jump. He has the skill and he has the roster (kind of). Now he just has to prove that he has the determination to join the brethren of the elite PG’s.
Stephen Curry – PG – Golden State Warriors
Here is the best compliment I can give to a player; if I’m told that I could only watch one player for the next decade I would pick Stephen Curry. Sure, Lebron is on a trajectory that will likely land him on the list of all-time greats and Kevin Durant could easily become one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history, but Stephen Curry has the possibility of becoming the greatest three point shooter in the history of the game.
Actually, that title is more of an inevitability instead of a possibility. He is already the king of made threes in a single season, topping Ray Allen’s old record of 269 by making 272 last season, and is well on his way to becoming the all-time leader in career threes. By comparison, Curry’s 644 made threes in his first four seasons are 147 more than Ray Allen’s over his first four years. As long Curry can stay healthy (which is a big if with those paper ankles of his) then he should have a legitimate shot at taking down the reigning king.
Of course that’s not the main reason he is a League Pass King. A fantastic career doesn’t justify keeping a constant eye on Curry in 2013-14. What puts him on this list is that he is one of the very select few who are capable of joining the vaunted 50-40-90 club. He was relatively close in 2012-13, only missing out on the FG%. The 40% from three point range is a gimme for Curry while 90% from the free throw line is very doable for a guy who led the league in the category in 2010-11 with .934. It’s that pesky FG%, a category where he never cracked the 50% plateau in his career, which is the problem. At some point he is going to gain membership in that club, so why not this year?
Ricky Rubio – PG – Minnesota Timberwolves
As I brought up with Kyrie Irving, there are a few playing styles that catch my eye, but there is one that will always reign supreme; Unpredictability. There are only a few players that truly fall into this category. When they have the ball you feel like anything is possible. Most of the time that involves the players ability to score, but when it comes to Ricky Rubio his unpredictability is in the pass. It doesn’t matter where he is at on the court or who he is playing with, he is one split second away from throwing a pass that will drop your jaw.
There is so much that goes into Rubio’s unpredictability. The best way to describe it is that he has the perfect blend of vision, creativity and fearlessness to throw any pass imaginable. All of those things collide in the split second between him picking out his intended target and releasing the ball. Its pure reactionary skill that is both created and god given. Off of the top of my head there are only two other players currently in the NBA that are in the stratosphere as Rubio’s creativity, and that’s Rondo and Nash.
But the good you have to take Rubio’s bad, and in this case it’s horrific. When it comes to actually putting the ball in the basket himself, Rubio is one of the worst around. His .357 FG% is woefully bad and his .317 3P% isn’t too spectacular either. But in a way that makes him even more entertaining. The defense knows that he is completely incapable of shooting which means that they can sag off of him and try to cut off his passing lanes, and yet doing so is impossible. They could leave Rubio completely unguarded and he would still find a way to feed a cutting Love or Pekovic. With Rubio, you can’t even guard what you know is coming.