6 NBA Bench Players Who Will Have Career Years in 2012

Luke Petkac@@LukePetkacFeatured ColumnistAugust 16, 2012

6 NBA Bench Players Who Will Have Career Years in 2012

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    A new year means new opportunities for NBA bench players.

    Whether it's a former star that wants to show that he has something left in the tank or a young gun that wants to prove he belongs, every year brings a fresh start for NBA reserves.

    While some players don't capitalize on these opportunities, there are always a few who up their games and break out of the ranks of NBA mediocrity.

    Keeping that in mind, here are a few of the bench players most likely to have career years in the 2012-13 season.

Taj Gibson

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    Taj Gibson is one of the few bright spots for a Bulls squad that recently lost franchise player Derrick Rose to injury and a host of key contributors to free agency.

    Gibson is a classic high-energy player, someone who comes in for a few minutes each game and provides toughness and intensity to the squad. The Bulls are going to need far more than that from Gibson if they still have hopes of making the playoffs.

    Now that fellow defensive stalwart Omer Asik is a Rocket, Gibson is going to be the guy off the bench this year. For Chicago fans, this is actually great news.

    Starting power forward Carlos Boozer has been a pretty big disappointment over the past two years. Though he's better offensively than Gibson, Gibson is far, far better on the defensive end and can provide energy plays like this.

    It's not like Gibson is a horrible offensive player. His mid-range jump shot, while inconsistent, is fairly respectable, and his athleticism and motor translate to easy points off of tip-ins and putbacks.

    But Gibson shines on the defensive end of the ball, where he's absolutely suffocating. He can guard multiple positions and rarely misses a rotation or a box-out. He should only improve with increased minutes, and spending more time on the court with Joakim Noah will allow him to gamble a bit more.

    Though his numbers may only improve marginally, don't be fooled. Taj Gibson will have an incredible season in 2012.

Lamar Odom

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    After a brief and horrible season with Dallas, Lamar Odom is heading back to Los Angeles. Again. This time though, he'll be donning his old Clippers uniform instead of the more recent purple and gold.

    I wouldn't blame anyone for thinking that Odom, the 2010-11 Sixth Man of the Year, is washed up considering his terrible play in Dallas. But don't worry about Odom. He's fine. He was just egregiously mailing in the season.

    It was honestly hard to watch him jog lazily up and down the court, pretend to play defense and halfheartedly hoist up shots. Now Odom seems happy to be back with the team he started his career with and is ready to play.

    And make no mistake—he'll play well. Not only will Odom be playing with a chip on his shoulder thanks to his (deserved) doubters, but he'll also be playing with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

    Paul is the best point guard in the league and one of maybe three points who make everyone on the team look about 20 percent better (the other two being Steve Nash and Ricky Rubio). He'll create a ton of open looks for Odom and help him find his spots.

    Griffin, on the other hand, is someone who forces opponents to pack the paint. Odom, a classic “stretch four," can use that to get a variety of open looks from deep.

    As career-killing as his stint in Dallas appeared, Lamar Odom is about to show the world that he has quite a bit left in the tank.

Rashard Lewis

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    Can you call it a career year if you're talking about a former star that should play well after being terrible? I'm going to say "yes," and since I'm the one making this list, I guess that's all that matters.

    Lewis used to be a very good player for the Supersonics and Magic, but his career has taken a nosedive since joining Washington in 2010. Now that he's with the reigning champion Miami Heat, expect to see him start producing again.

    Though Lewis shot poorly as a Wizard (35 percent from three in 2010-11 and a paltry 24 percent last season), there's a big difference between being set up by John Wall and being set up by LeBron James.

    The Miami offense is built around LeBron James and Dwyane Wade creating open shots (most often corner threes) for teammates. In fact, according to ESPN's Tom Haberstroh, when the “Big Three” have been surrounded by two, non-point guard shooters, they outscore opponents by an average of 47.4 points per game. That's absurd.

    Though everyone talks about Ray Allen, given Miami's lack of big men, it's Lewis who will be on the receiving end of most of these shots.

    It's literally the perfect situation for Lewis. He doesn't have to do much on defense because he's backed by two destructive defenders in Wade and James. And offensively, he only has to stand in a corner and hoist up the open shots that the two create.

    As easy as all that sounds, it's almost certain to lead to Lewis' best season in four or five years. Sorry, Heat haters. Rashard Lewis is going to get nothing but love for his performance this season.

Darko Milicic

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    Just kidding. Making sure everyone was paying attention.

Jerryd Bayless

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    Bayless will never be the player that he was expected to be when he was taken with the 11th overall pick in the 2008 draft, but he appears to have found a great role on the Memphis Grizzlies.

    Bayless essentially signed with Memphis to serve as a scorer off the bench. It's the perfect role for him. Bayless has been miscast as a lead guard multiple times, but he's at his best when he can use his speed and size to create shots for himself.

    That's exactly what he'll be asked to do for the Grizzlies, who are looking for someone to replace the departed O.J. Mayo.

    Though the Memphis offense revolves more around the strength of its big men than its guards, Bayless can help pace a second unit that's had problems producing in the past.

    His ability to play either guard position will also prove invaluable to the Grizzlies.

    The current backup to shooting guard Tony Allen is the relatively untested Wayne Ellington. Though not a bad player, Ellington isn't a guy that should play major minutes for a team that considers itself a championship contender.

    Bayless will be able to spell either Allen or point guard Mike Conley for stretches. This versatility, in addition to finally being in a role that suits him, should help Bayless experience his best year yet as a pro.

Chase Budinger

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    Budinger could never really find his niche with Houston. He played fairly well and showed flashes of potential, but never made a big impact.

    Now that he's been traded to the Timberwolves, his career is looking up.

    Budinger's two greatest skills are his ability to make the corner three and to finish at the rim. Minnesota point guard Ricky Rubio's greatest skill is his ability to create shots for teammates, namely corner threes and shots near the basket. Sound like a perfect match to you? Me too.

    Budinger joins a team that started both the perennially disappointing Wesley Johnson and the rather erratic (to put it kindly) Michael Beasley at the wings last year. They're absolutely starving for talent in these positions, and he should have no problem picking up minutes behind newly signed forward Andrei Kirilenko.

    For the first time in his career, Budinger should be the top offensive option coming off the bench, and considering his rather efficient game, he should thrive in the role.

    Minnesota fans will love the high-flying Budinger, and his synergy with Rubio should put him in position to have his best year in the league to date.

Derrick Favors

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    Derrick Favors' play was the silver lining of Utah's playoff series with the Spurs. Despite losing the series 4-0, Favors was impossible to keep off the court.

    He often looked like the best player on the Jazz and showed a few flashes of his true potential (like this, this and this).

    Favors has been considered a project for a while, but this should be the season where he finally dumps that status.

    The problem with Favors over the past few seasons is that he's been too raw to keep on the court. The Jazz have a glut of talented big men, including Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson and Enes Kanter, and it was often difficult to play Favors over them.

    After the Spurs series, this is clearly no longer the case. Favors is going to get the minutes this year, which should mean even more rapid improvement from the young forward.

    That's what impresses the most about Favors—how quickly he's progressing. If you watched film of him when he started the season and then film of the Spurs series, you wouldn't even think you were looking at the same player.

    The Favors from the beginning of season barely belonged on the court. The Favors from the Spurs series was often the best player on it.

    Though he's still unpolished, particularly offensively, it will all come to him with more playing time. He'll get plenty of that this year, which should lead to a breakout season.