A lot of basketball stars immediately showcase their skills and talents from the get-go once they enter the NBA. In fact, some of these stars would produce MVP like numbers, even if they were just in their rookie seasons. However, there are also a handful of basketball players that need some time before blossoming into a star. Although some of these players needed more time, they proved that the wait was worth it.
For this piece, let’s rank the five greatest late bloomers in the league today.
5. Pascal Siakam
Career stats: 12.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.7 blocks
Awards: 1x NBA Champion, 1x All-Star, 1x All-NBA Second Team, 1x Most Improved Player
Pascal Siakam is no doubt one of the successful projects of the Raptors franchise. In his younger years, the 6’9 forward was still an unpolished 22-year-old from Cameroon. In fact, he was even assigned to the franchise’s D-League affiliate Raptors 905 to slowly hone his development which certainly disappointed the current Raptors star.
According to ESPN, Siakam said about getting assigned to the D League “It was definitely my lowest point… but I’m built for moments like that. This is how my life has gone. I’ve always had to fight through everything.”
However, despite the setback, Siakam rose to the occasion. He collected various awards in the developmental league. Fast forward to today, he is an NBA All-Star. But more importantly, he won the Most Improved Player Award and the NBA championship in the same year during 2019.
Siakam is now the face of the Raptors’ franchise after the departure of Kawhi Leonard. And so far, he has done a pretty good job in keeping Toronto as a legitimate Eastern Conference contender.
4. Kyle Lowry
Career stats: 14.8 points. 6.2 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 0.3 blocks
Awards: 1x NBA Champion, 6x All-Star, 1x All-NBA Third Team
Before Lowry became a star in Toronto, Lowry was just a role player who struggled to get minutes in his earlier years. While playing for the Memphis Grizzlies and the Houston Rockets, the 6’0 guard came off the bench and played under 25 minutes per game until his seventh season in the league. His lack of playing time and injuries hindered him from shining on the court.
Fortunately, by his seventh season, Lowry emerged to become a steady guard for the Rockets as he averaged 13.5 points and 6.7 dimes per outing. But as history unfolded, his career only got better when he moved to the Toronto Raptors. In nine seasons so far with the Raptors, Lowry has averaged at least 14 points and six assists per game. With these numbers, he found himself earning six straight All-Star distinctions and an NBA championship. In fact, his first All-Star appearance in 2017 made him the oldest player at 28 years old to make an All-Star debut.
As a result, Lowry has become one of the premier guards in the league today that has continued to improve his numbers as the years go by. Like wine, he just gets better with age.
3. Jimmy Butler
Career stats: 17.0 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.5 blocks
Awards: 5x All-Star, 3x All-NBA Third Team, 4x All-Defensive Second Team, 1x Most Improved Player
Jimmy Butler didn’t really have the best start to his NBA career. In his first season, he only played in 42 games while only playing 8.5 minutes per game. As a result, he could only average 2.6 points per outing. His second season was also forgettable, given that he only mustered 8.6 points per game.
However, Butler eventually developed into a star by his fourth year in the league. In his final three seasons with the Chicago Bulls, the 6’7 forward put up at least 20 points per game. Furthermore, he has also made four straight All-Star teams.
From a benchwarmer, Butler evolved into a legitimate star player that helped make the Philadelphia 76ers and the Miami Heat championship contenders in the Eastern Conference. Just recently in his stint with the Heat, we saw him do a herculean job in leading the franchise back to the NBA Finals ever since 2014. And while playing in the grandest basketball stage, Butler made history by becoming only the third player to register a 40 point triple double in the NBA Finals.
There is no question that the early struggles Butler faced didn’t stop him from becoming one of the best forwards in the league today. As a result, he ranks third in this list.
2. Draymond Green
Career stats: 8.9 points, 6.9 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.1 blocks
Awards: 3x NBA Champion, 3x All-Star, 1x All-NBA Second Team, 1x All-NBA Third Team, 1x Defensive Player of the Year, 3x All-Defensive First Team, 2x All-Defensive Second Team, 1x League Leader in Steals
Draymond Green has become one of the most successful undersized power forwards today. His defense and playmaking abilities certainly compliment well with the Splash Brothers Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Because of this, Green has played a key role in bringing the Warriors franchise three NBA championships.
However, Green certainly did not become a star overnight. His first two seasons saw him mostly coming off the bench while playing limited minutes. In fact, his first season only saw him average 2.9 points and 3.3 rebounds per game.
Fortunately, his emergence came in the 2014-2015 season where he also made his NBA Finals debut. In capturing the NBA championship, Green successfully anchored the paint on defense while keeping LeBron James in check. Furthermore, his timely passes to Curry and Thompson made the Warriors unstoppable. Fast forward to today, Green has made three straight All-Star teams as he started to stuff the stat sheet by averaging near triple doubles in terms of points, assists, and rebounds, while also becoming a league leader in steals during the 2016-2017 season.
Although Green isn’t the player who will drop 40 or 50 points on any given night, his all-around game that benefits the Warriors on both ends of the floor turned him into a championship-caliber player that can give opposing teams rough nights. In fact, the 6’6 forward even made history by registering a unique triple double without scoring double figures as he put up 12 rebounds, 10 assists, and 10 steals.
Career stats: 20.2 points, 8.9 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.3 blocks, 1.2 steals
Awards: 2x League MVP, 4x All-Star, 2x All-NBA First Team, 2x All-NBA Second Team, 1x Defensive Player of the Year, 2x All-Defensive First Team, 1x All-Defensive Second Team, 1x Most Improved Player, 1x All-Rookie Second Team
If there is a player that should top this list, it should be Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak has come a long way to become a two-time MVP and four-time NBA All-Star. Drafted from Greece, Giannis was just a tall kid that was still very raw for the league. His first season in the NBA only saw him put up 6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game off the bench.
However, the Bucks knew that the Greek Freak had a lot of potential. From a bench player, Giannis developed to become the face of the Bucks franchise. With great size and a more polished skillset, he is simply impossible to stop one on one and in transition. In his past five seasons with Milwaukee, Giannis has put up a near 20-10 double-double stat line which allowed him to earn various NBA awards that also placed him among the most elite players in the league today. Furthermore, The Greek Freak has also displayed great leadership for the Bucks, as he has helped the team finish as the number one seed in the East for the past two seasons.
With the two-time MVP signing a monster extension with the Bucks, there is no question that Giannis will be determined to repay the team that developed him by winning an NBA championship.