The NBA – where amazing happens. Where greatness happens. Where breakout performances happen. Where most improved performances happen.
In the upcoming 2012-13 NBA season, we will once again see it all transpire in from of our eyes.
Last season it was Jeremy Lin’s time to shine. He showed elements of brilliance before being traded to the New York Knicks however it wasn’t until he got his break inside the famous walls of Madison Square Garden that he dazzled crowds and fans right across the globe.
Who will be next to step up?
Atlanta Hawks: Al Horford
The 6’10’’ center enters his sixth season as a dual NBA All-Star on the verge of becoming a superstar. The third-overall draft pick in 2007 has a career average of 12.8 points-per-game, 9.5 rebounds-per-game and 1.1 blocks-per-game.
In 2011-12, Horford suffered a serious injury yet made it back in time for the playoffs and truly made his mark. The big man continues to develop his post game and can defend multiple positions, he runs the floors, can handle the ball and finishes strong. Did I mention Horford shoots lights out from the field? He led Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and Stephen Curry last season.
With Joe Johnson now in Brooklyn, this is Horford’s team.
Boston Celtics: Courtney Lee
I just hope Lee remains in a Celtics jersey for several years: 2012-13 will be his fourth team in five seasons. However, the guard continues to consistently deliver.
Lee is an exciting player to watch – he strokes it well from deep: he has only shot less than 40 percent from the field in one season when with New Jersey. Defensively, Lee is a solid defender whom presents a problem to teams with his 6’5’’ frame. Lee will thrive this season with Rajon Rondo playing the point.
Brooklyn Nets: MarShon Brooks
Brooks approaches his second season in the NBA as a Sixth Man of The Year prospect. Last season he played 56 games, starting in 47 and putting up solid numbers of 12.6ppg, 2.3 assists-per-game and 3.6rpg.
Will come off the bench behind Joe Johnson and further development is expected.
Charlotte Bobcats: Ben Gordon
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will be expected to be everything for Michael Jordan’s organisation in 2012-13, yet the player for me that has a good chance of turning his career around is Ben Gordon.
After three years in Detroit (first four seasons in Chicago), Gordon will start at the two and will be hoping to have a year similar to the 2008-09 season where he averaged more over 20, three and three.
This is Gordon’s last chance: he is owed $37 million over the next three years and will want to show us eventually why he was selected third overall in 2004.
Chicago Bulls: Luol Deng
Even when Derek Rose returns to the hardcourt, this Chicago outfit will be Deng’s team. Deng is positioned to put up career highs but he will also face extra pressure from opposing sides.
Can Deng make it to All-Star level this season?
Cleveland Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving
Last seasons Rookie of The Year who delivered numbers just shy of one LeBron James in his first season in the league and a tad better than Derek Rose.
The Melbourne-born 20-year-old has guaranteed All-Star written all over him.
Dallas Mavericks: Rodrigue Beaubois
Despite the Mavs bringing in Darren Collison, the player to keep an eye on is this Frenchman going into his fourth season. Beaubois stats have increased every year with last season his best yet.
Beaubois needs to develop his court vision – from the field he is an effective shooter and possesses good defensive skills and quickness.
There is must improvement to go with this guard and if fully fit he may just challenge Collison for playing time.
Denver Nuggets: Javale McGee
Will the McGee mature and be the ultimate teammate and defender that his side needs? In the past McGee has been focused on his own stats rather than anything else and that’s the main reason for Washington, who are currently in rebuild mode, traded him to Washington. Will that be the wake up call he needs?
McGee had his best season in 2011-12. He has been working out with retired-superstar center Hakeem Olajuwon (ala Dwight Howard and LeBron James) – the 1994 NBA MVP told Fox 26 Sports: “I see him as another star, that guy should dominate the league. He has tremendous talent. I give him all these moves and he can finish and he’s really skilled.”
McGee recently re-signed with the Nuggets onto a four-year, $44 million deal – now he must deliver and answer the questions.
Detroit Pistons: Greg Monroe
The last few years have been a struggle for the Pistons: it doesn’t look like that will change this season. Much of the responsibility will rest on the shoulders of Greg Monroe who is approaching his third season since arriving in the NBA as the seventh overall draft pick.
Monroe led all Detroit scorers with 15.4ppg, as well as rebounds (9.7) and steals (1.3). The University of Georgetown alumni has much improvement within him including creating better shots (without getting blocked as much) and on defense, where he lacks to play skilled big men.
Monroe will this season act as a mentor for the Pistons first round draft selection, Andre Drummond – that just may be enough to have Monroe further his development where needed.
Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry
This could well be Klay Thompson or Brandon Rush however the Son of Del Curry (former NBA guard from 1986-2002), Stephen, is key to the Warriors.
Houston Rockets: Chandler Parsons (keep an eye out for fourth-string C Greg Smith too)
The 38th overall pick (second round) in the 2011 NBA Draft won’t ever be an All-Star and may even see time in the D-league this season however expect his game to improve with reasonable numbers.
Last season Parsons notched up 9.5ppg, 4.8rpg, 2.1pgs and 1.2 steals-per-game. The 6’9’’ forward produced solid games against the two teams that slugged it out in last season’s finals and each month his numbers went up bar the last.
Parsons, a 2012 NBA All-Rookie Second Team naming, is an average shooter and an even worse finisher at the foul line and needs to add strength also.
Indiana Pacers: Paul George
With Danny Granger at the three spot and the 7’2’’ Roy Hibbert down low, the forgotten man is Paul George.
The Fresno State alum started all 66 games last season and as expected his numbers went up: they weren’t off the chart and his play did blow fans away like his rookie year did, however there was improvement with traces of much more to come.
George has a smooth stroke from the outside and I’m sure that his percentage from the three-point line will rise as he becomes accustomed to the pro distance. The guard did turnover the ball more than he would’ve liked but Indiana coaches can see that he’s pushing the ball and the potential is vast.
Los Angeles Clippers: Blake Griffin
That’s right, Blake Griffin, not DeAndre Jordan.
Griffin had one of the best rookie seasons in history and then backed-up with another season reminiscent of a highlight reel.
Numbers wise, the 6’10’’ forward out of Oklahoma is up there. Here’s the however though. Griffin can still refine his game in a big way on the defensive end, with his own offensive skills down in the post and in focusing on getting back up the court and not on the referee whom just missed the call.
How high Griffin goes is up to him – exciting times await.
Los Angeles Lakers: Devin Ebanks
With an All-Star at every position except small forward, Devin Ebanks has the opportunity to further develop his game. The 2012-13 season will be his third year with the Lakers: in his first season Ebanks played 20 games (zero starts) and 24 games (12 starts) last season.
With Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol getting double and at times, tripled team, this second-round draft pick may just be open enough to improve his outside shot.
Memphis Grizzlies: Rudy Gay
With O.J. Mayo now in Dallas, the Grizzlies belong to Rudy Gay. Statistically, Gay has been ultra consistent but similar to Blake Griffin, the forward approaching his seventh NBA season is improving his defensive game and racking more and more assists.
With Mayo out, expect Gay to put up more shots – hopefully a greater number from the three-point line.
Miami Heat: Norris Cole
Don’t expect anyone to have a pure breakout year with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen in the lineup.
Norris is the backup with starting point guard Mario Chalmers however showed that he has the arsenal to move up on the depth chart. The no second-year player out of Cleveland State has proved to be valuable pick up late in the draft.
Watch his game (where he scored 20-points) against the Boston Celtics and Rajon Rondo and you’ll understand why I selected Cole and not Chalmers.
Milwaukee Bucks: Brandon Jennings
Jennings posted career-high points-per-game (19.1) average last season and was the Bucks second-best scorer. Yet, he is the one whom has significant upside.
Jennings shot poorly from outside and inside however he has youth on his side. He will need to improve otherwise Jennings may end up being trade bait.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Alexey Shved
If you watched Shved at the London Olympics you’ll know how good this Russian 23-yeard old.
The mature-aged rookie can flat out play – he can hit the long jumper, uses the ball very well and is athletic at 6’6’’. A big watch in an exciting team.
New Orleans Hornets: Greivis Vasquez
Vasquez remains the only true point guard on the Hornets roster however he may be pushed into a backup role when New Orleans move Austin Rivers into the lineup and try and convert him into playing the one spot.
The Venezuelan improved last season from his sound rookie year and again, improvement is expected. If the Rivers gamble doesn’t pay dividends, Vasquez will be the beneficiary.
New York Knicks: Iman Shumpert
Name another player who will have a break out season on the Knicks team: Shumpert is the only guy. Jeremy Lin and Kyle Landry are gone and J.R. Smith isn’t the most reliable player, thus the 6’5’’ guard out of Georgia Tech will likely be in the starting roster come mid-season.
In his first season in the pros, Shumpert delivered decent stats both as a starter and when coming off the bench for a rookie in the same lineup as Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudamire and Lin. Defensively and rebounding, Shumpert is a solid contributor and will only improve.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Serge Ibaka
The Brazilian has much upside and we can expect to see improvement in Ibaka’s game. Defensively, Ibaka is very strong and is right up there when it comes to most blocks per 40-minutes.
It’s on the offense end where Ibaka could dominate. He is a decent shot from the field and a highly effective finisher at the rim. With Perry Jones coming off the bench, Ibaka may just learn a lot in mentoring the rookie.
Orlando Magic: Gustavo Ayon
The Magic is set for a pretty bad season after losing Dwight Howard. There are three players I like however: Arron Afflalo, rookie Andrew Nicholson (had a very good summer league) and thirdly, the big Mexican Gustavo Ayon.
In his first season coming off the Hornets bench, Ayon averaged 5.9ppg, 4.9rpg and 0.9bpg. In 17-minutes against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Ayon dropped 16-points; against the San Antonio Spurs, he scored eight points, pulled down 13-rebounds and recorded five assists. The 27-year old can play.
Philadelphia 76ers: Andrew Bynum
This is the former Lakers big mans team now. There isn’t any Kobe Bryant in this exiting talented: the ball will be run Bynum every time down the floor. I don’t need to tell you how good he is. Watch his numbers soar beyond 20ppg and 15rpg this season. Let’s just hope he isn’t sitting as much as he plays.
Phoenix Suns: Goran Dragic
The 2012-13 NBA season will make it Dragic’s third stint with the Suns. It will also be his best year.
The fifth-year guard put up career high numbers in 2011-12 after starting 28 of the 66 games played. Dragic must work on his turnover rate and his foul rate – both are at unacceptable rates.
On the flipside, he is a good shot, athletic, has great size and is aggressive. Big watch this year.
Portland Trailblazers: Damian Lillard
My one to watch in the NBA Draft, Lillard will either win the Rookie of The Year award or finish second. He had a huge summer league playing akin to Derrick Rose.
Sacramento Kings: DeMarcus Cousins
A mature, consistent and in-shape Cousins could make him the dominant center in the game. In just his second season in 2011-12, Cousins produced 18.1ppg, 10.9rpg, 1.2bpg and 1.6apg: big numbers and think about this, he doesn’t get much help from the guards – he makes his own shots.
If Cousins puts it all together, he will tower above this league for years.
San Antonio Spurs: Patrick Mills (also watch Kawhi Leonard)
Patty had a very good Olympics that followed his sound performance in 16-games last NBA season. Mills will come off the bench when Tony Parker takes a rest: when he gets his time on court he must be aggressive while watching his handle on the ball. With assistance coach Brett Brown on the Spurs bench, Patty will get his chance.
The other player to keep an eye on is Leonard – a very skilled forward whom delivered respectable numbers last season. Leonard is one of my favourite non All-Star players to watch. Can play the three spot and four, however best at the three.
Toronto Raptors: Jonas Valanciunas
The 6’11”, 105kg big man from Utena, Lithuania will start in his first season in the NBA (selected fifth overall in the 2011 draft) after his now former club Lietuvos Rytas didn’t allow him to join the Raptors until the 2012-13.
The 19-year old Valanciunas has proven to basketball viewers that he is a strong rebounder who can get to the ring and draw plenty of fouls. He will do well in his rookie year however the learning experience from playing on the worlds best centers will be enormous and highly valuable. The only question, how quickly will it take him to be named in his first All-Star game?
Utah Jazz: Derrick Favors
This is one man I want to see more of on the court. Favors finished his third-year in the NBA with 8.8ppg, 6.5rpg and 1.0bpg from an average of 21.3mpg.
The 6’10” third overall pick in the 2010 draft was part of the Deron Williams to New Jersey trade in 2011. Favors played just one college season – he was named ACC Rookie of The Year and to the ACC All-Freshman Team.
Defensively, Favors is powerful and will make an All-Defensive Team several times during his time in the pros. He does however need to watch and work on his committing of fouls: that is an area greatly affecting his playing time. On the other end, he has to develop his skills in the post, but he has time on his side.
Washington Wizards: Bradley Beal
I can’t wait to see Beal suit up for Washington. With John Wall running the point and Nene and Emeka Okafor (two unselfish big men) down low, Beal is going to see the ball coming to him a great deal when open. This Florida Gators star can flat out stroke the ball from a long way out (think Ray Allen).
He is going to be a go to guy, especially when late in the game, to take the pressure of Wall. One intangible we’ll see is the positive impact he will have on Wall (think LeBron James and Dwyane Wade).
Beal will be a star in this league for many years.