Breaking Down the NBA's Best-Kept Secrets Going into 2012-13
There are a handful of players that everyone knows will be great next year. Barring injury, the league's best players are no secret, and they never have been.
Nonetheless, every year, a few players who not many people thought about when the season started are on the minds of many as the season concludes.
When the 2011-12 season started, Ryan Anderson was a guy who had never played more than 23 minutes a game or averaged more than 11 points a game. He was entering his fourth season in the league and seemed like a nice player, but not one who would become fairly pivotal.
Anderson was on a team and paired with a coach and a player who happened to complement his skill set perfectly. That led to a breakout season in which Anderson was the second-leading scorer on the Orlando Magic and one of the best three-point marksmen in the NBA.
So, who's got next?
Enes Kanter: Center-Forward, Utah Jazz
If you look at the league's rebounding leaders last season, you won't find Enes Kanter's name at or near the top of the list.
However, if you switch from total rebounds or rebounds per game to "rebounds per 48 minutes," something interesting happens.
Kanter ends up in the top 10.
Kanter, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft, spent most of his rookie season buried on a Utah Jazz bench that is not short of young big men, with plenty of potential.
This season won't be all that much different.
Al Jefferson returns at center, and the 27-year-old who averaged almost 20 points and 10 rebounds a game last season won't be giving up his starting position anytime soon.
He might be changing uniforms, though.
Jefferson is a free agent next summer, and while Utah could be a solid team this coming season, it probably won't be so good that dealing a player of Jefferson's caliber midseason to improve the team down the road would be ruled out.
The player who would stand to benefit from a trade of Jefferson? Kanter.
Kanter only averaged 4.6 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, but he also only played 13.2 minutes per contest.
At only 20 years old and with no NCAA experience, Kanter is raw, but he's very talented.
An increase in both experience and minutes will inevitably result in some pretty decent numbers. Numbers that could start to take shape as early as next winter.
Anthony Morrow: Guard, Atlanta Hawks
Anthony Morrow has been a hot-and-cold shooting guard who has struggled with consistency in New Jersey for the past two seasons.
Morrow was originally brought to the Nets for his three-point accuracy, but over the last two seasons he has hit 42.3 and 37.1 percent from long range.
Dealt to Atlanta as part of the mega deal that sent Joe Johnson to Brooklyn, Morrow may find the new team to his liking.
He will be playing alongside two very good frontcourt players in Josh Smith and Al Horford. Both players are good passers. That's critical.
Morrow is not great at creating his own shot, but if he's allowed to spot up and is left open beyond the three-point stripe, he can be a very accurate long-range shooter. When he played in Golden State for two seasons, Morrow hit from downtown with over 45 percent accuracy.
Don't be surprised if he returns to those higher percentages, and with those higher percentages, better all-around numbers may not be far behind.
Kevin Seraphin: Power Forward, Washington Wizards
For the better part of last season, Kevin Seraphin sat on the Washington Wizards bench, getting limited minutes and producing tepid numbers.
Then, at the NBA's trade deadline in mid-March, the Wizards made a major trade that shipped JaVale McGee and Nick Young out of town.
That deal created an opportunity for Seraphin to shine, and he took full advantage of it.
Seraphin, who was originally selected No. 17 overall in the 2010 NBA draft by the Chicago Bulls, spent the latter part of March and most of April showing the league just why he was selected so high.
His April numbers were a testament to a player who works hard and is blessed with physical gifts.
At 6'9", 275 pounds, Seraphin looks like a guy who can score and rebound, and in April, he averaged 15.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game.
Now, as the 2012-13 season draws closer, Seraphin is primed for what could be a breakout season.
Seraphin won't start, with both Nene and Emeka Okafor slated to play center and power forward, but both players have battled injuries, and Seraphin will be one of the first big men off the bench.
An injury could net Seraphin a starting position, and he's already shown that he's good at taking advantage of opportunities.
Wesley Johnson: Shooting Guard, Phoenix Suns
Wesley Johnson was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft, which means he was selected in front of guys like DeMarcus Cousins (No. 5) and Greg Monroe (No. 7).
Clearly, he hasn't been quite as successful in the NBA as those two players.
That could change this season.
Johnson was originally selected by the Minnesota Timberwolves, but he struggled to produce in Minnesota, where the offense was focused primarily on All-Star Kevin Love.
Now Johnson finds himself in Phoenix, where he may very well end up as the starting shooting guard on an offense that lacks a true offensive star.
That may end up being just what Johnson needs to start fresh and put up some improved numbers.
A career 7.7 PPG scorer, Johnson has yet to really find his way in the league. He's only 25 years old, and while many stars have come into their own by that point in their careers, not every player develops and learns at the same pace.
Is Johnson simply a late bloomer? The NBA is about to find out.
Brandon Knight: Point Guard, Detroit Pistons
It sure is easy to get lost in the shuffle when you're a point guard in the modern NBA.
Never has the league been so full of talent at the position.
In a league with the likes of Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Steve Nash, Kyrie Irving, Ricky Rubio and John Wall, it can be pretty tough to stand out at the point guard position.
That doesn't mean Brandon Knight won't give it a try.
The 20-year-old point guard is entering his second season in the league. He arrived in the NBA with fairly high expectations, something not unusual for a player selected No. 8 overall out of a top college program such as Kentucky.
His rookie season wasn't great, but he certainly showed the ability to play at a high level. Like many young point guards, Knight turned the ball over too much and didn't shoot the ball so well.
He's on an improving team, and as he matures, his improvement seems inevitable.
Omer Asik: Center, Houston Rockets
It stands to reason that when you average the third-most rebounds per 48 minutes in the NBA, you won't be sitting on the bench as a seldom-used backup for too long.
That's why Omer Asik is not in Chicago backing up the likes of Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah anymore.
Asik moved on to Houston after the Rockets offered up a three-year, $25 million contract in July of 2012. That contract removed a degree of mystery from Asik since the size of the deal was newsworthy.
He's still not a top center in the NBA, though.
He's got a lot to prove.
Asik has size, and he has shown that he's a guy who can take advantage of whatever minutes he's given by his head coach.
In Chicago, that only amounted to 14.7 minutes a game last season, but Asik managed to grab 5.3 rebounds and block a shot per game in spite of those paltry minutes.
Now that he's in Houston, he seems likely to start at center.
His averages per 36 minutes last season were 7.6 points, 13.0 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. If he puts up numbers like that, he'll be known for a lot more than just signing a big contract this past July.
Gustavo Ayon: Center, Orlando Magic
Ayon won't be putting up the gaudy numbers Howard produced for eight seasons in Orlando. He probably won't win too many Defensive Player of the Year awards or make the All-Star team or don any Superman outfits.
He might end up being a solid center, though.
Ayon has size—he's 6'10", 250 pounds. He's also not a bad center.
As a member of the New Orleans Hornets and in just his first season in the NBA last year, Ayon managed to average 5.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game, while playing only 20.1 minutes a night.
Stretch those out to 36 minutes a game, and all of a sudden you've got a player who averages 10.6 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game.
Is that enough to make Magic fans forget about Howard?
No, but it might be enough to get the Orlando Magic a few wins and ensure that they're not completely overmatched in the middle on a nightly basis.