US basketball

LOOK: Top young stars to watch in NBA season restart

JR Isaga
Here are the can’t-miss young guns in the bubble 

After what seems like an eternity of waiting, the NBA seeding games are finally pushing through on Friday, July 31, Manila time.

Once again, the best players in the world like LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard will resume their battles for basketball supremacy in a tightly-controlled bubble facility at Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

While there are established stars just trying to add more accolades to their stacked resumes, there are also young guns in the bubble eager to make their names heard more around the world and lead their teams to better places while they’re at it.

These are just some of the rising stars invited in the bubble whom fans simply cannot miss starting on Friday morning.

Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram – New Orleans Pelicans

Ever since his debut, highly-touted rookie Zion Williamson has taken the league by storm with his massive, NBA-ready body, freakish athleticism and sky-high potential.

In just 19 games, the 6-foot-7 bruiser burst to the scene with averages of 23.6 points and 6.8 rebounds on an elite 59% clip.

Because of this, many fans may have glossed over the true established star of the New Orleans Pelicans, Brandon Ingram.

In his first season since being traded away from the Los Angeles Lakers for Anthony Davis, the lanky 22-year-old forward clinched his first All-Star appearance with career-high norms of 24.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists.

With former Laker Lonzo Ball directing the offense, Ingram and Williamson have revived the Pelicans’ playoff hopes and are currently just 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the 8th seed in the tough Western Conference.

Fans better believe that through thick and thin, Williamson and Ingram along with the rest of the Pelicans will play their hearts out for a shot at playoff glory.

Nikola Jokic, Bol Bol – Denver Nuggets

The Denver Nuggets have a lot of interesting names to look out for heading into the season restart, but none have created more buzz than the unique pairing of All-Star Nikola Jokic and rookie Bol Bol.

Since the scrimmages have started, these two have been the talk of the town due to their eyebrow-raising designated positions, namely point guard for the 6-foot-10 Jokic and small forward for the 7-foot-2 Bol.

Of course, these won’t be permanent positions in the ever-fluid play style of the modern game, but both Jokic and Bol have proven that they are walking mismatches every time on the floor.

Jokic, who has reportedly lost 20-25 pounds, has continued his All-NBA-caliber season with averages of 20.2 points, 10.2 rebounds, 6.9 assists and 1.2 steals on 53% shooting.

Bol, the son of NBA legend Manute, has not wasted his time in all 3 scrimmages with norms of 13.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and a whopping 3 blocks per game.

In whatever position these two play in, except them to help the Nuggets make a deep run yet again in this year’s historic playoffs.

Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis – Dallas Mavericks

Dirk Nowitzki must feel so proud.

In just his first year away from the game, the Dallas Mavericks are back in playoff contention largely thanks to the outstanding play of young superstars Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.

The sensational sophomore Doncic is on his way to make a serious case for league MVP as early as next year with stacked averages of 28.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, 8.7 assists and 1.1 steals all while being just 20 years old.

The 7-foot-3 Porzingis, meanwhile, has made steady adjustments from a tough ACL tear and subsequent trade from the New York Knicks with norms of 19.2 points, 9.5 boards and 2.1 blocks.

Alongside reliable role players like Seth Curry and Tim Hardaway Jr, the 7th-seeded Mavericks are all ready to stage an upset run in the playoffs against one of the top-tier teams like the Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers.

They may not win it all yet this year, but the future in Dallas is simply brighter than most.

Jayson Tatum – Boston Celtics

This year, many Boston Celtics fans may have celebrated the arrival of veteran guard Kemba Walker, but really, this season just got more exciting due to the rise of first-time All-Star Jayson Tatum.

After an alarming second-year slump where he saw his shooting percentages dip across the board, the 21-year-old Tatum bounced back in a big way this year with career-high averages of 23.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.9 blocks.

Along with fellow rising star Jaylen Brown and the resurgent Gordon Hayward, the Celtics rose up to the 3rd seed and in firm contention for the Eastern Conference throne.

For the first time in quite a while, raising banner number 18 is growing to be a legitimate scenario down in Beantown.

Giannis Antetokounmpo – Milwaukee Bucks

Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is still very much a “young star.”

Yes, the four-time All-Star who is likely on his way to a second-straight MVP award is just 25 years old.

Unless you are a Bucks fan, it is absolutely frightening to realize that the “Greek Freak” may not have yet reached his prime.

Even with eye-popping averages of 29.6 points, 13.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists in just 30.9 minutes per game, Antetokounmpo has yet to master a reliable three-point and free-throw shooting stroke.

If he somehow manages to raise his 31% three-point percentage and 63% free-throw clip as early as this season’s playoffs, then the NBA title will be even nearer within the grasp of his outstretched, gargantuan hands.

Up to this point in Antetokounmpo’s career, consistent playoff success has been the only flaw in his otherwise stellar seven-year rise so far.

That may all change starting next month, and the world is ready to watch it happen. –