Predicting the 15 Most Improved Players of the 2012-13 NBA Season

Zach HarperContributor IIISeptember 6, 2012

Predicting the 15 Most Improved Players of the 2012-13 NBA Season

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    Who is going to win the 2013 Most Improved Player award in the NBA?

    Trying to figure this out is kind of a tricky deal. The MIP award isn't always about who is actually improving. Sometimes it's simply about which guy is getting more opportunities (i.e.: more minutes, more shot attempts).

    We've had winners in the past like Ryan Anderson (2012), Aaron Brooks (2010) and Zach Randolph (2004) that didn't actually improve that much from the previous season, and yet still walked away with the hardware.

    Anderson's season in 2012 was almost identical to his season in 2011. Somehow, he walked away with more votes than Ersan Ilyasova, Jeremy Lin and Nikola Pekovic. Does this mean Ilyasova, Lin and Pekovic will be frontrunners for an award they already improved for the previous year?

    Aaron Brooks' award in 2010 happened because he jumped from 11.2 to 19.6 points per game. And while he had this increase in just 10 more minutes per game, he also was allowed to increase his field goal attempts from 9.8 to 16.2 shots per game. Was he actually better than the previous year or was he just taking a lot more shots?

    As for Randolph, his raw numbers increased dramatically (8.4 ppg to 20.1 ppg and 4.5 rpg to 10.5 rpg) in 2004. But when you average out his numbers over 36 minutes, you're looking at increases of 18.0 points per 36 to 19.1 and 9.5 rebounds per 36 to 10.0. Did he get better or did he get minutes? 

    You can argue that these guys all had to improve to earn more minutes or more scoring chances when they were on the floor, and maybe that's a valid discussion to have. But it just shows the criteria for this award can be a bit murky.

    When you have second-year players winning the award, it usually results in the questioning of shouldn't second-year players automatically improve with one year under their belt? Should we be looking to more established guys in the NBA getting better and adding to their game? And which additions to someone's game mean the most?

    Kevin Love in 2011 added a deadly three-point shot and stopped having his minutes yanked around. It resulted in him putting up a historic season of 20 and 15, but was it a more important improvement than LaMarcus Aldridge having to figure out how to be the franchise player for Portland when Brandon Roy went down?

    Regardless of what the criteria for winning the MIP award should be for you, we have enough historical evidence to try to figure out who might win it this year. Here are my picks for the 15 Most Improved Players for the upcoming 2012-13 season.

15. Tobias Harris, Milwaukee Bucks

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    We're starting off with a bit of a stretch here.

    Tobias Harris only played in 42 games and received 11.2 minutes per contest. While Mike Dunleavy had a good season at the small forward position, Carlos Delfino was pretty abysmal, which made him getting minutes over a young guy like Harris really confusing.

    Harris' numbers were respectable. He had a PER of 14.2 (league average is 15), per 36-minute averages of 15.6 points and 7.6 rebounds and he had a true shooting percentage of 54.0 percent. And his WS/48 was a decent enough .087. 

    Scott Skiles can be a bit short-tempered in general and isn't exactly rookie-friendly unless he has to be. It's the only way to explain why Harris wouldn't be inserted into the lineup more often when Carlos Delfino is just wasting everybody's time. 

    If the Bucks are serious about cultivating the talent they have on the roster to prepare for the future, they'll play Harris a lot more often this season. He's a strong small forward with a good first step and a very long frame.

    Harris had an impressive Summer League performance in Las Vegas, and while that isn't indicative of a guy becoming a good player (see: Randolph, Anthony and Robinson, Oh my god why do teams keep signing Nate), he did show an ability to exploit smaller defenders and move past bigger opponents.

    If Dunleavy has any kind of health setback, Harris will probably be the option at small forward for Milwaukee. Mbah a Moute isn't likely to get a lot of minutes at the three even with the plethora of big men Milwaukee has on their roster.

    If Harris gets the minutes, it wouldn't be surprising for him to double or triple his scoring output from last season (five points per game), which will get the attention of the voters at hand.

14. Ed Davis, Toronto Raptors

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    I really want Ed Davis to be higher on this list because I believe he can be a pretty good role player in this league.

    Watching Davis on the defensive end can be pretty fun. Whether he executes properly or not, his instincts are usually spot on, and that's going to be a big step forward in getting him playing time with Dwane Casey.

    He rotates extremely well from side to side and is usually in good position to cut off drives and contest shots inside. He's struggled defending the post so far, but that's mainly because he's had a tough time with foul trouble. He actually fouls 19.5 percent of the time when defending a post-up, which is a pretty high number.

    His biggest problem defensively is when he has to get out on spot-up shooters. He seems so concerned with protecting the basket that he does a poor job of closing out from a help position. However, all of these shortcomings can be ironed out with more years of Casey's tutelage.

    There are two keys for Ed Davis getting to have a breakout season.

    He has to learn how to score from the left side of the floor (if you're looking at the basket from halfcourt). He can finish at the rim (62.6 percent), and he was great from the lower right side of the floor last season (45.8 percent).

    But he didn't have a single area outside of those two in which he made over 34.6 percent of his shots. From the lower left side of the floor, he made just 27.5 percent of his shots.

    Also, he's going to have to earn minutes and show he can play alongside both Andrea Bargnani and Jonas Valanciunas. With Bargs on the floor, he has to be a great help defender everywhere and his rebounding must be solid. With Jonas on the floor, he's got to provide some versatile scoring to balance things out.

    If Kyle Lowry, Terrence Ross and DeMar DeRozan are all scoring efficiently, it should make the offensive side wide-open for Davis.

13. Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings

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    If you told me in 2010 that I'd be wondering if Tyreke Evans could win the MIP for 2013, I'd assume he figured out how to average a triple double and they were just giving him all of the awards for this accomplishment.

    When Reke came into the league, he was a wrecking ball on offense. He attacked with a ridiculous handle that was backed up by a barrel-chested shooting guard bullying his way into the lane. He was decent at kicking out to shooters and dropping off passes inside. He grabbed boards and lived at the rim.

    During his rookie year, nobody attempted more shots at the rim than Tyreke Evans. I'm not talking about just rookies here; he had more attempts per game than anybody in the league. His next season, plantar fasciitis and poor decision-making on the court dropped his attempts at the rim from 8.4 per game to 6.2.

    Not only was he getting to the rim less, but his finishing in the restricted area was terrible. He dropped from 55.1 percent his rookie year to making just 47.8 percent of his shots in the restricted area in year two.

    Last year, Evans actually started to turn things around, but nobody seemed to notice or care. If you look at his numbers, he tallied 16.5 points, 4.5 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game while shooting 45.3 percent from the field. Only Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook hit those marks of averaging at least 16-4.5-4.5 with 45 percent shooting last season.

    The firing of Paul Westphal and the insertion of Keith Smart into the head-coaching position seemed to help Evans quite a bit.

    Evans needs structure. He can't run a pick and roll out of a 1-4 flat. He just doesn't have that vision, and he can't really go left much at all. It's easy for defenses to take away his right hand and build a wall of defenders behind his man when he's just iso'ing at the top.

    Instead, the Kings did a pretty decent job of getting Evans moving more toward the basket to get him back to simpler basketball plays.

    With Aaron Brooks and Isaiah Thomas now looking to assume full-time point guard duties, Evans will most likely being playing more and more off the ball. This means he has to be active to get involved in the action.

    If Evans can continue to simplify his game like we saw last year and find any kind of stroke from a jumper he and his family swear was wet in high school, we could see a huge year from Reke.

12. George Hill, Indiana Pacers

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    Two big things happened for George Hill this offseason: 1) he signed a new deal for five years and $40 million, and 2) the team traded away Darren Collison.

    Sure, they replaced Collison with former lottery pick D.J. Augustin, but let's not pretend he's very good and capable of stealing valuable minutes away from Hill.

    Hill took over for Collison late in the season during 2012 because of a groin injury to DC. The Pacers clicked immediately with Hill as the floor general, and it caused Frank Vogel to make the bold move of keeping Hill in the starting lineup once Collison returned, even when the playoffs began.

    Collison responded wonderfully by putting up the best advanced numbers of any player on the team. His 23.2 PER and .242 WS/48 were the highest marks on the team. He led the Pacers in assists per game with 3.0 despite playing just 18.6 minutes to Hill's 31.5 minutes per game. 

    This season, Hill won't have to worry about fighting for playing time, and the thought is that he'll benefit from being given the starting job outright.

    Indiana will probably benefit from Hill having the ball in his hands more because he can provide more firepower at the top of the attack. There are few players in the league better at scoring off of a pick-and-roll than George Hill. Last year, he was 11th in the NBA in points per possession when running a PnR.

    Hill can shoot the ball from virtually anywhere on the floor. He has a strong mid-range game scoring the ball and shot 38 percent from three-point range last season. Now, he gets to set the tone for the Pacers and have other people play off of his aggressiveness with the ball.

    It wouldn't shock me if Hill came close to doubling his scoring output of 9.6 points per game last season while still shooting accurately from the field.

11. Darren Collison, Dallas Mavericks

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    Speaking of Darren Collison, guess who else doesn't need to worry about sharing time at the point guard position this year?

    Collison joins the Dallas Mavericks this season, and his only competition for point guard minutes comes from Delonte West and Rodrigue Beaubois. This means he should be playing close to 75 or 80 percent of the minutes at point guard for Dallas this season, like he did for much of the season in Indiana last year.

    DC isn't the type of guy that will necessarily wow you with his numbers all the time (especially now that he doesn't have the benefit of being in the Hornets' home scorekeeper's favor half the year), but he doesn't hurt you when he shoots the ball, and he has cut way down on his turnovers during his three seasons.

    With Collison getting to pass to Dirk Nowitzki and also swing the ball around the perimeter like Dallas loves to do, we could easily see a career high in assists per game for its new point guard this coming season. 

    The key for Collison's improvement will be how he handles the transition game. With the Mavericks finally using a point guard who wasn't around during the Mesozoic Era, we could see them increase their 13th-best pace from a year ago.

    Collison struggled mightily in transition last season, scoring just 1.04 points per possession (211th in the NBA) and shooting 47.2 percent. He finished on the break at a rate of 60.4 percent during his rookie campaign. His steady hand combined with an ability to score in the open floor could help get Dallas' 22nd-ranked offense from a year ago back on track to the deadly attack we're used to seeing from them.

    The key for Collison is using what he's learned in taking care of the ball in his time with the Pacers and combining it with the ability to attack the basket and make plays we saw from him his rookie season. If he does that, we'll see a huge improvement from him next year.

10. Derrick Williams, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    I'm not sure that I actually believe Derrick Williams will be one of the most improved players for next season, but I feel like he sort of has to be.

    Williams was a decently heralded No. 2 pick in the 2011 draft, and some people even wondered if Cleveland would be better off drafting Williams with the first pick and then grabbing a point guard with the fourth pick. Turns out that would have been a terrible strategy because Kyrie Irving turned out to be all kinds of special on the NBA court.

    He had a couple of moments last season too. He had a game against the Clippers in which he and Michael Beasley torched their opponents in the second half and put the game away in spectacular fashion. He was able to get to the basket whenever he really put his mind to it, and when he wasn't floating around the perimeter instead of moving without the ball toward the hoop, Rubio was finding him for incredible alley-oops.

    That's the problem, though; those moments didn't happen that often.

    Williams seemed confused by the offensive game plan in front of him when he really should have been thriving in it. He's quicker than most fours and stronger than most threes. There's no reason he shouldn't be able to find his way to the rim where he can Thor hammer home some dunks.

    Instead of being the aggressive player we saw at Arizona, he floated on the perimeter and shot a jumper that just isn't that good. Outside of the restricted area, Williams made just 28.3 percent of his shots in his rookie year.

    Coming into this year, Williams has slimmed down roughly 20 pounds, and he fixed his deviated septum. This should help his conditioning stay up later into games and allow him to still be the athletic freak we loved in college.

    That and a full training camp under Rick Adelman should get him a lot more familiar with the system. When he was asked about the Wolves' pursuit of Nicolas Batum in the offseason, his response was that they wouldn't be going after him if Williams had played better.

    He seems to understand what he needs to do to get better and isn't ducking responsibility. But now, the Wolves have to find a way to get him involved on the court and stop from being so passive on offense. Finding a position for him to play might also help guarantee he makes a leap from what we saw last season.

9. Rodney Stuckey, Detroit Pistons

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    The more I watch Rodney Stuckey play, the more I like his game.

    He's not perfect. Some days, he'll make you think you're watching Randy Foye being given the offense, and that's never something you want unless your team is playing against Randy Foye's. Other nights, you wonder why he doesn't have better numbers.

    Stuckey is pretty filthy attacking the basket. He's kind of like watching a cannonball roll through a group of soldiers in a Civil War movie. He's taking out guys at the knees and ankles, leaving them completely incapable of putting up a decent fight. His crossover is deadly, and he's strong enough to take the contact and still finish the play.

    When Stuckey is out there playing the point and being the main playmaker on the floor, he's pretty hard to stop. He played well with Ben Gordon on the court, but Gordon is also a guy that needs the ball in his hands a lot more than someone like Brandon Knight. If Gordon isn't involved in the play, he seems to get pouty, and that can put pressure on the rest of the guys to appease him.

    Now that Gordon is gone and Knight's feet are a little wet, we should be able to see a much more comfortable team when they have Stuckey as the primary initiator and Knight playing off the ball. This could lead to a better offensive attack and unleashing Stuckey on opposing backcourts that aren't equipped to fight a cannonball.

    The more the team convinces Stuckey to get to the basket and avoid the three-point shot, the better off he and his team will both be. Stuckey's game is getting into the paint and getting to the line. Now that he gets to handle the ball more, we should see more of exactly what makes him successful.

    Stuckey is a guy that's capable of approaching 20 points per game, and voters love to award increases in scoring.

8. Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Was Tristan Thompson the best pick Cleveland could have taken at No. 4 in 2011?

    That remains to be seen. It seems like Jonas Valanciunas is a much better prospect with a higher ceiling. Jonas performed incredibly in his season in Europe last year, while Thompson showed flashes of good play surrounded by a lot of awkward moments on the court.

    The big things for Thompson are catching the ball and having good footwork. It seems like a really basic concept for a big man to grasp, but ask Kwame Brown how easy it is to develop those kinds of skills once you're in the NBA. Thompson looked confused and uncomfortable on the court most nights. But he also looked like he was capable of galvanizing his team with flurries of playmaking at the rim on both ends.

    Everybody knows he's a freakish athlete when he gets in the air with the ball. Now you just have to figure out how to get him into the air with the ball.

    It was just a brief glimpse during Summer League, but Thompson looked a lot more comfortable around the basket. He caught the ball really well, and his footwork looked like he had been watching a lot of Dancing With The Stars. He wasn't exactly Mikhail Baryshnikov out there, but he wasn't tripping over his feet, either.

    The fact that his footwork looked so much better in a game setting after such a short break from his rookie season gives me reason to believe he'll have a sophomore season that makes him look like less of a mistake at No. 4.

    He only made 46.5 percent of his shots in the restricted area last season, and if his improved footwork allows him to be more balanced around the basket, would it surprise you if that number jumped to around 60 percent? And if he's finishing proficiently at the rim, doesn't that make him a pretty nice weapon for Kyrie Irving to utilize?

7. Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

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    I expected to have Klay Thompson higher on this list until I noticed something.

    Thompson exploded during the second half of his rookie year, averaging 17.4 points per game over the last two months of the 2012 season. That seems extremely impressive when you think about the fact that he looked like he wasn't much of a weapon during his first two months.

    But he also needed 15.1 shots per game to get that 17.4 scoring average. Yes, he shot well from three-point range in those two months by netting 40 percent of his long attempts, and his overall field-goal percentage was a respectable 43.9 percent. But he still took 15.1 shots per game.

    How is he going to get 15.1 shots per game this coming season?

    There are some Klay Thompson fans that have berated me for not believing he could become a 20-point per game scorer in his sophomore season in the NBA. In order for that to happen, he's going to have to get more shots than the 15.1 per game he took in the final two months.

    And with the Warriors actually realistically thinking about the playoffs this season, I don't see how that happens.

    Golden State tanked last year, and with good reason. If it didn't finish with the seventh pick or better, it was going to be gift-wrapped and delivered to the Utah Jazz. So it cleaned house by trading their top scorer for an injured Aussie and started putting Nate Robinson on the court like it is something to do.

    Because it was tanking, guys like Klay got to fire up shots at will. Unless the Warriors are going to tank again this season (and maybe injuries will happen again and make it a viable option), I'm not sure he's going to get the opportunities to put up so many shots.

    Then again, Mark Jackson did just inexplicably compare him to Reggie Miller.

6. Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks

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    This HAS to be the year Jeff Teague breaks out as a player.

    If he has it in him at all, Teague will need to immediately capitalize on the departure of Joe Johnson and become a truly exciting and consistent playmaker. It's going to be a bit tricky because the Hawks acquired Devin Harris in order to get rid of Marvin Williams. Devin Harris' talent is on par with Teague's, but the Hawks could quickly realize that Harris doesn't actually make anybody better when he plays with them.

    This would leave the door wide-open for Teague.

    Last season, the Hawks' point guard was sensational scoring out of the pick-and-roll. He was 29th in the league with 0.91 PPP when he was the PnR ball handler. He was also really good at spotting up and shooting, netting 45.3 percent of his shots on spot-ups and 40.8 percent of his three-pointers. But he also had to endure a lot of possessions of Iso Joe in which he wasn't that involved with the offense.

    Now, the Hawks NEED him to be someone who attacks all the time. They need him to be the main lead guard and direct traffic. They'll spread the floor with shooters like Kyle Korver, Anthony Morrow and rookie John Jenkins. They'll have big men like Al Horford and Josh Smith to dish off to for dunks inside. And they'll need a super speedy point guard to handle it all.

    Beckley Mason at TrueHoop outlined exactly how the Hawks offense could work this coming season:

    The fundamental purpose of a spread pick-and-roll offense is to open up the middle of the court. That’s the space that is the most difficult for help defenses to account for, which partly explains why Dirk Nowitzki’s high-post game was so devastating in Dallas’ 2011 championship run. 

    Typically, two or three shooters align themselves along the 3-point line (often in the corners, to make helping off even harder) while the point guard and big man run a pick-and-roll in the middle of the court. As the screener rolls to the rim, the other big man (assuming he isn’t a Ryan Anderson-type that can camp out on the perimeter) flashes up from the baseline to the top of the key. 

    While there are countless permutations, the essential goal is to create a 2-on-1 in the middle of the court between the point guard and the big man rolling to the rim. When a defender rotates off a shooter to help down low, the point guard must find the open man.

    If Teague can work this offense like a lot of pundits think he can, he could end up stealing a lot of MIP votes next year.

5. DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings

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    DeMarcus Cousins has all the makings of a monster on the court.

    Forget about his supposed attitude problems. Cousins isn't a crazy guy as some people assume, and he isn't a guy that is necessarily bad with his teammates. Cousins is a lot like Charles Barkley and Rasheed Wallace in the sense that he doesn't seem to have a filter in his head. Whatever comes to his mind comes out of his mouth, and that sometimes leads to head-scratching comments.

    For all of the supposed drama Cousins brought to the Kings in his first two years, think about how many times we heard about problems regarding Cousins after Paul Westphal was fired. Didn't it seem a little quiet with Cousins under Keith Smart's rule?

    Part of this could be that Cousins and Westphal didn't see eye to eye. In fact, Westphal and a lot of guys didn't seem eye to eye because it didn't seem like there was much of a system in place. Under Smart, he laid out specific roles for each player and challenged them to fill those roles.

    For Cousins, that role was to dominate inside. DMC put up averages of 18.1 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. He ended up with the most offensive rebounds in the league and the fifth-most total rebounds.

    The big knock on Cousins is his field-goal percentage. He made just 44.8 percent of his shots last year, and you can't just blame his bad outside shooting on that low number. He made just 48.4 percent of his shots in the restricted area. Cousins can fall in love with his jumper a little too much, but once he learns how to dominate around the rim, he probably won't utilize shooting from the outside so much.

    The important thing for Cousins is getting him the ball in positions to score right away. The Kings don't really have a pure point guard on board, so it will need to be a concerted effort for all members of the team to play smarter and make better passes.

    When that happens, people will stop accusing DMC of being a problem for his own team and realize what a problem he is for the rest of the league.

4. Bismack Biyombo, Charlotte Bobcats

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    I've told this story various places before, but it's still one of the weirdest things I've ever watched in pregame warmups.

    When the Bobcats visited the T'Wolves last season, I was watching the opposing team go through various individual workouts like I typically do before they let the crowd in. The Bobcats had Biyombo working out of the post on the lower right block.

    They tossed the ball into him, he caught the ball, and he tossed it back out to the passer. They tossed him the ball from various angles and each time he'd seal off the post defender, catch the ball, and pass it back out. After about three times of them repeating this series of actions and zero post moves or shots being attempted, I realized what they were doing.

    They were teaching Bismack Biyombo how to catch a basketball.

    Now... this seemed BIZARRE to see an NBA player simply learning how to catch the ball. But with someone as raw as Biyombo, it made a lot of sense. You start with the basics for a guy that hasn't really had a ton of coaching in his young career and build up from there.

    Three and a half months later, I watched Bismack Biyombo play in the Las Vegas Summer League. This wasn't the same guy I watched having a catch with an assistant coach in March.

    Bismack was easily securing the ball inside, dishing it off to teammates, and going up strong with solid post moves and thunderous dunks. Yes, he was doing against much lesser talent, but there was a skill set developing before our very eyes just mere months after he was so raw that he had to be shown how to catch the ball.

    If he has any semblance of a competent offensive repertoire at his disposal to go with the rebounding and defensive abilities he's showed us so far, this guy could have an explosive year for the Bobcats. It wouldn't shock me if he had the most actual improvement from last year to next season, even if he doesn't end up winning the award.

3. John Wall, Washington Wizards

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    I've already written about John Wall on here and how much better/more important this upcoming season is for him.

    The star quality is there. His vision and ability to set teammates up is already at a special level. He's average 8.2 assists per game over his first two seasons with teammates like Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee (pre-George Karl obviously), Nick Young, Jordan Crawford and even part of a season with Al Thornton.

    He still finds a way to get guys into scoring position, even if he doesn't have much to pass to. This year, he will have options to pass to. He'll be able to set up Nene for a full season, and Nene is often one of the most efficient scoring options in the league. He'll be able to drop the ball off to Emeka Okafor for dunks inside. He'll be able to set up Jan Vesely at the rim, and Bradley Beal anywhere on the court.

    The world is still John Wall's oyster.

    Now his team will be good enough to garner a playoff spot by the end of the season. That doesn't mean they will, but for once, Wall will be playing in a winning environment without the distraction of goofy characters and guys more focused on themselves than the task at hand.

    Shot selection will continue to be an issue with Wall, but it's not a glaring hole. He seems to know his limitations. He only took 42 three-point attempts last season. It's not like he's just out there chucking shots and putting up poor shooting numbers.

    The key for Wall is when he's allowed to attack the basket. According to 82games.com, Wall had an eFG percentage of 49.2 when he took a shot in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock. After that moment, his percentage fell into the mid-to-low 30s. Now that Wall will have more offensive weapons to pass to, it's possible he won't have to take so many shots late into the clock.

    This could result in his field goal percentage soaring to the high 40s. If that happens, people will look at him as more of an elite point guard and less of a guy that can't consistently make shots.

2. Paul George, Indiana Pacers

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    I think we're all waiting for Paul George to put it all together.

    Last year, he added a pretty serious three-point shot to his arsenal. He made 38.5 percent from long range and turned what looked like a shaky jumper into a weapon of choice. The odd thing about his three-point shooting is, he wasn't very good from the corners (usually regarded as the easiest shot from long distance). He made just 27.8 percent of threes from both corners and 42.1 percent everywhere else.

    The problem with George is, he doesn't seem to have an all-around offensive game.

    He isn't great at putting the ball on the floor and creating good shots for himself. In isolation plays last season, George shot just 32.2 percent from the field. He simply couldn't make stuff happen on his own, even though a lot of people keep waiting for him to showcase that ability.

    The way Indiana has utilized him (outside of long range shots) is by getting him to move toward the basket. He's devastating on cuts to the rim, in transition and when he grabs offensive boards. Get him coming off of a screen and you're looking at a great scoring opportunity.

    This year could be the year though that he finally makes that next offensive breakthrough.

    If George does manage to figure out how to attack the basket off the dribble, it means the Pacers no longer have to rely on Danny Granger as the main offensive attraction. You can run a lot more of a two-man game between George and Roy Hibbert or George and David West.

    Get Paul George around the basket more, and we'll see more of a sneaky ability to get others involved. His field-goal percentage will rise and his scoring averages will take a leap. George has every tool you'd want to complement an ability to score off the bounce. He knows how to move without the basketball and he can obviously shoot.

    Let's hope we're not still waiting for him to put it together next offseason because he can be a special player when he does.

1. JaVale McGee, Denver Nuggets

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    I can't believe that I'm buying the JaVale McGee stock so much, but I'm ready to give you my money for it.

    George Karl knows how to coach, and believing in McGee's improvement is as much about the coaching as it is about the player. McGee is goofy on the court, and it's typically not in a purposeful way. The guy just makes hilarious mistakes a little too often, and it ends up to segments on TNT highlighting them and memes on the Internet being generated over it.

    Once McGee got out of Washington and was thrust into a "play winning basketball or we're not playing you at all" type of scenario, McGee seemed to shape up right away. It's not that he's never taken his job seriously. Talk to people that cover the Wizards, and it sounds like JaVale is a guy that wants to be great.

    He just didn't know how to do it. George Karl knows how to make him great.

    You saw big strides in the playoffs when McGee borderline outplayed Andrew Bynum for most of the first round. This wasn't the same McGee we saw running the wrong way or planking in the middle of a charity game. This was the potential of a freak of a human specimen just dying to come out to play.

    Now, McGee has spent some time at the Hakeem Olajuwon boot camp, and he's going to have a full training camp of Karl and his staff showing him what's a good decision and what's something to avoid. Maybe McGee has had people tell him that before, but Karl just seems to know how to get through to guys that want to learn how to be great.

    It's the whole reason the Denver Nuggets are what they are right now. They're perennial underdogs that play better than they probably should. And that's what McGee make unleash next season.

    He may be a terror for the other team around the basket on both ends of the floor. He may dominate the boards and not the Not Top 10 Plays of the Week. Forget about Olajuwon teaching him the tricks of the trade (although it could end up being something that sticks with him for a long time).

    For the first time in his career, JaVale McGee has direction and expectations that will either be met or result in him sitting on the bench. I think we're about to see a tornado of limbs and length wrecking the opposing interior for a full season. If it does, McGee will end up being the Most Improved Player for 2013.