When the NBA All-Stars take the floor at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre on Sunday evening, they’ll feature some mid-major flavor. Three former mid-major players — including Golden State’s Steph Curry, the reigning NBA MVP and former Davidson Wildcat — were voted starters for the game. Curry was second among players in votes (only because of the Kobe Byrant retirement tour) with more than 1.6 million.
Former San Diego State forward Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs) received 782,339 votes, while former Fresno State forward Paul George (Indiana Pacers) received 711,595 votes. Both were among the leading vote-getters in their respective conferences.
The emergence of players like Curry, Leonard and George proves mid-major players can become superstars at the next level, and gives current mid-major players hope of following in their footsteps.
Take a look at Curry. Growing up in Charlotte, Curry was overlooked by major local programs because of his size, despite being the son of former NBA player Dell Curry. With no high-major offers, Curry opted to go to Davidson, where he led the Wildcats to an Elite Eight appearance and broke virtually every program scoring record.
Despite his collegiate accolades, Curry fell to Golden State at No. 7 in the 2009 NBA Draft because of concerns with his defense and athleticism. Since then, Curry has done nothing but silence his critics by becoming one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history and leading his team to a championship.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Curry’s rise to fame should serve as motivation to players, like Oakland’s Kay Felder, who are constantly told they’re too undersized or come from too small of a college to make it in the NBA. Curry proves that if you have an elite skill, such as scoring, there’s a place for you in the association.
As parity grows in college basketball, expect to see more and more mid-major players blossom into stars at the next level. Who will they be? It’s not always easy to tell which mid-major players can transition to the next level, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some intriguing prospects to watch out for.
One prospect to keep an eye on is Gonzaga’s Domantas Sabonis. At 6’11” and 240 pounds, he has the physical traits and the pedigree — his father was legendary NBA player Arvydas Sabonis — to become a star at the next level. He’s an outstanding rebounder and scorer, and this season has expanded his offensive game to include more mid-range jumpers and the ability to attack off the dribble.
There’s also UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman Jr. Like Sabonis, he has the size (7’0″, 240 pounds) to compete in the NBA, but is a couple years younger. He may take some time to reach his full potential, but there’s no doubting his ability to affect the game defensively with his shot-blocking.
Sabonis and Zimmerman are projected as mid-first-round draft picks and are the easy choices for mid-major players most likely to appear in an NBA All-Star game in the near future. But it may be someone who goes undrafted who takes the league by surprise and becomes the next star.
One player who has star potential but isn’t receiving the attention he deserves is the aforementioned Felder. Often dismissed because of his size, Felder has proved against some of the best teams in college basketball that he is an elite scorer and distributor. He scored 37 points and dished out 10 assists against then-No.1 ranked Michigan State, and scored 30 points against Virginia’s defense.
Felder may go undrafted, but he — like those who paved the way before him — should have a chance in the Summer League to prove naysayers wrong and earn his spot on an NBA roster.
Sabonis, Zimmerman and Felder are all talented enough to become quality NBA players, and that’s just skimming the surface. In reality, there are many more mid-major players who could become stars, and that’s exciting to think about.
So as you sit down to watch Curry, Leonard, George and the others Sunday night, remember to think about the future of the NBA and how mid-major players are changing it for the better by beating the odds and proving their doubters wrong. It’ll add a different perspective to an already-exciting game.