Superstars run the NBA.
It's been that way for years, and for all of the innovations and evolutions in the basketball world, that part of the formula may never change.
So, what defines a superstar? As broad as that question is, we'll use a simple answer for this exercise: players who cracked the top 20 of B/R's Top 50 for the 2021-22 season. That leaves a few tough cuts out of the process—Zion Williamson and Rudy Gobert chief among them—but when you think about the exclusivity of the superstar label, a 20-player pool might actually be generous.
There won't be 20 players listed here, though, since we're only focusing on players who enter this campaign under the age of 30. As we're identifying what's holding each player back, it makes sense to narrow it down to players with the time and trajectory to actually improve on their biggest weakness.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks: Free-Throw Shooting
Had the Bucks ended their 2020-21 season with anything other than a ring, the haunting image for Deer faithful would've been Giannis Antetokounmpo sweating out his trips to the free-throw line one 10-second chant at a time.
However, it wasn't the length of his free throws that tripped him up (well, not usually), but rather the result. After converting just 68.5 percent of his free throws during the regular season, his playoff percentage dipped to 58.7—and that was with his improbable punctuation of a 17-of-19 showing during Milwaukee's championship clincher.
His struggles at the charity stripe give opposing defenses an out. When he puts himself in prime scoring position—which, for someone who's never more than three dribbles from the rim, happens often—they can just wrap him up and take their chances with his foul shots.
While some might argue for the addition of a three-ball here, that's extreme wishful thinking for someone who can't consistently knock down shots from closer range and zero defenders in his face. Whether he's battling a case of the yips (he has twice shot better than 75 percent at the line) or a more mechanical issue, this is the biggest hurdle he needs to clear to enter truly unstoppable territory.
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards: Defense
It's possible Bradley Beal is being punished here since defense was apparently outlawed in the District. Each of the past three seasons, the Wizards have fielded one of the 40 least efficient defenses in NBA history.
It's also possible—if not probable—that the 6'3" scoring guard is being overextended on offense and just doesn't have the legs to bring the necessary energy to the game's less glamorous end. Over the past two seasons, he ranks fifth in minutes per game and fourth in usage percentage.
Still, those are explanations—not excuses.
They don't erase all the issues he has encountered on defense. Both FiveThirtyEight's Defensive RAPTOR and ESPN's defensive real plus-minus put Beal outside of the top 200. NBA.com's defensive rating buried him all the way at No. 479, and while Washington's collective struggles contribute to that number, it's worth noting the team fared 8.9 points better per 100 possessions without him.