Boston has more than its share of established sports stars, and while Tom Brady, David Ortiz, Zdeno Chara and so many more are still on top of their game (not to mention the standings, save for the rebuilding Celtics), there’s a next generation on the way. Here are some of the young players we expect to break through in 2014, some new rising stars to join the familiar ones.
Bradley, who just turned 23 but is already in his fourth NBA season, has thrived under new coach Brad Stevens (a breakthrough star in his own right, come to think of it). Always a defensive stalwart, Bradley’s offense has taken a leap forward this season – he’s the Celtics’ second-leading scorer at 13.2 points per game, and his overall shooting percentage (.454) and 3-point shooting percentage (.388) are up significantly from last year.
Should he remain with the Celtics beyond this season – he is set to become a restricted free agent – he’s poised to become one of the most well-rounded young guards in the league.
If you were among the few who wondered if the hype surrounding the Red Sox’ shortstop superprospect was exaggerated a bit, chances are October made you join up with the believers. Bogaerts’s October performance, both in terms of production (.839 postseason OPS) and poise, was mesmerizing, not to mention confirmation that, barring the unforseen, the next Red Sox star has arrived.
At 21, he is one of the best prospects they have ever had, and stardom should be his in his first full season.
Jackie Bradley Jr.
Bradley, who entered the 2013 season having played just 61 games above Single A, was the victim of unrealistic expectations after earning a spot on the opening day roster with a torrid spring training (.419 in 62 plate appearances). He was back and forth between Boston and Pawtucket during the season, hitting .189 in 107 plate appearances in the majors.
His struggles last year have led to him being underestimated now. Bradley is already a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder who will be a quintessential No. 2 hitter in his prime. He may not hit for a high average right away, but he will be an asset immediately as he replaces Jacoby Ellsbury.
It’s typically taken young receivers at least a year to grow comfortable in the Tom Brady-led Patriots passing game. Even Deion Branch, who became perhaps Brady’s most trusted receiver through the years, had just 489 receiving yards as a rookie in 2002. That considered, Dobson, a second-round pick this April, has had a very encouraging rookie season with 519 receiving yards and four touchdowns in 12 games.
He battled injuries and occasional drops, but the 6-foot-3-inch Dobson looks capable of becoming the field-stretching receiver the Patriots need.
The ninth choice in the 2012 NHL Draft, the 6-foot-5-inch defenseman played 42 games for the Eastern Conference champions as a 19-year-old last season. This year, an ascent into a bigger role was expected, but his progress has been temporarily stalled by the dreaded “lower-body injury,’’ which has kept him out since December 8. Hamilton returned to practice Monday.
With stalwart blue-liner Dennis Seidenberg out for the season with a knee injury, the Bruins are counting on Hamilton to help fill the significant void.
The Rutgers-to-Foxborough football pipeline delivered a potential future cornerstone to the Patriots in Ryan, a third-round choice in the 2013 NFL Draft who suddenly looks like a steal. Ryan, a cornerback, leads all rookies with five interceptions, including two against the Ravens on Dec. 22, a game in which he held his own and then some with Ravens receivers Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones.
The 22-year-old right wing was little more than an afterthought in the seven-player blockbuster than sent Tyler Seguin to the Stars and brought Loui Eriksson to the Bruins in July. Even defenseman Joe Morrow, a former first-round pick, brought more buzz with him to Boston. But it’s Smith who has proven to be a godsend to the Bruins, leading the team with 14 goals through 40 games, two more than mainstays Jarome Iginla and Milan Lucic.
The way Smith is playing, he could well establish himself as a mainstay for this year and beyond.
The Celtics were overmatched by the Eastern Conference-leading Pacers on Dec. 22, losing 106-79 at Conseco Field House. But one Celtic did make a good impression on the Pacers’ Roy Hibbert.
“He’s just gotta keep working,’’ Hibbert said of Sullinger, the Celtics’ second-year forward. “He could be like the Kevin Love of the East.’’
That’s high praise, though probably tinged with some hyperbole. Love averages over 20 points and 13 rebounds per game for his career and is one of the league’s elite players. It’s a level that is probably out of Sullinger’s reach – he’s averaging 8.9 ppg in his breakthrough second season – but there are some aesthetic similarities, and there’s no doubt he’s playing his way into being a significant part of the Celtics’ future.
The versatile third-year running back has submitted two huge performances so far during the 2013 Patriots season. In a season-opening win over the Bills, he ran for 101 yards on 14 carries and also contributed 58 yards on seven receptions. And during the Patriots’ come-from-behind win over the Browns in Week 14, he was the offense after Rob Gronkowski suffered what would be a season-ending knee injury during the game. Vereen had 12 catches for 153 yards in the 27-26 win.
The Patriots don’t have a more electrifying player on their current roster, but to take the next step, he needs to remain healthy: He’s never played more than 13 games in a season, and was limited to eight in the regular season this year because of injuries.
Yet to be determined Celtics draft pick
It remains to be seen whether the Celtics – tough and resilient if not richly talented – will make the NBA playoffs out of the abysmal Atlantic Division. What is becoming apparent – unless they have some genuine good fortune with the NBA Draft lottery ping-pong balls – is that they probably won’t be in position to draft a potential future franchise-caliber player such as Kansas’s Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, Duke’s Jabari Parker, or Kentucky’s Julius Randle.
But the 2014 draft is expected to be a deep one, and Celtics boss Danny Ainge has done a fine job of finding talent no matter where the Celtics are picking from. Our guess for one Celtics first-round pick: Aaron Gordon, a high-flying forward from Arizona.