10 Young NBA Stars Primed to Bounce Back During the 2012-13 Season
No matter how incredible a young NBA star may be, he can experience a down season for a variety of reasons. Injuries, perception and lackluster performances may have held these 10 players down, but Eric Gordon and the other nine will all bounce back during the 2012-13 campaign.
To qualify as "young," the player must currently be 26 years old or younger. Two just barely meet the restriction, but the other eight pass with flying colors.
All of them will re-establish themselves by the end of the upcoming season, though.
Let's find out who they are.
Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 14.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.5 steals
Stephen Curry has been a sensational offensive player whenever he's on the court. However, there's a major problem that has been omnipresent during his brief NBA career: Curry simply can't stay healthy.
The creative guard's ankles have had tons of difficulty staying whole, which has meant that Curry hasn't been able to shine for extended periods of time.
Remember, this is a guy who defied the critics during his rookie season, proving his value to the Golden State Warriors from the charity stripe and behind the three-point arc time and time again. His ankles are the only things that have held him back thus far.
With the second half of the 2011-12 campaign and a full offseason to recover, expect big things from a healthy Curry in a contract year.
Eric Gordon, New Orleans Hornets
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 20.6 points, 2.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 0.4 blocks, 1.4 steals
Eric Gordon was set to establish himself as one of the league's best shooting guards before injuries kept him from making much of a mark during his first season with the New Orleans Hornets.
The former Los Angeles Clipper played in only nine games during the lockout-shortened season, lacing up his sneakers twice in the first six games and then sitting out for three months. Obviously a lack of continuity prevented him from establishing chemistry with his new teammates.
That won't be a problem this season.
Gordon is going to be one of the best scorers in the NBA with his smooth all-around game. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see him average 26 points per game and compete for the No. 2 spot on the scoring list.
Jeff Green, Boston Celtics
2010-11 Per-Game Stats: 13.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.5 blocks, 0.7 steals (for Oklahoma City Thunder and Boston Celtics)
Jeff Green missed the entire 2011-12 season after doctors detected an aortic aneurysm that forced him to go undergo surgery, but he's going to have to light it up to justify a four-year contract worth $36 million.
According to an interview with ESPN's Chris Forsberg, Green has declared that he's ready to go after a full recovery.
The combo-forward was a great talent the last time he was healthy, and he'll finally give Rajon Rondo someone to run with on fast-break opportunities. Green is going to spell Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, and he should become a valued contributor off the bench in no time at all.
Calling Green a star is a bit of a stretch, but he's being groomed for a much bigger role in the future.
James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 0.2 blocks, 1.1 steals
I'm only including James Harden to emphasize the perils of evaluating players based on a small sample of games.
Harden was almost universally loved after the regular season that earned him the coveted Sixth Man of the Year award. Then he put up stinker after stinker in the 2012 NBA Finals and was a major contributor to the Oklahoma City Thunder's losing efforts.
All of a sudden, Harden is massively overrated. At least, that's what a large group of NBA fans seems to be claiming now. You know, because it makes sense to let a handful of games trump the overall body of work.
After he lights up the scoreboard off the Thunder bench and continues to grow out his beard during the upcoming regular season, Harden won't be called overrated any more.
Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 12.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.3 blocks, 0.9 steals
After making the All-Star squad in both 2010 and 2011, Al Horford missed out on the midseason festivities last season as he nursed a torn pectoral muscle back to health. He returned for the playoffs, but the power forward masquerading as a center still missed the vast majority of the season.
Assuming that no more fluke injuries plague the former Florida Gator, Horford is set to play more than 11 games and regain his old form.
He might not be glamorous, but he is a consistent threat to contribute with some steady across-the-board production for the Hawks. Even though Josh Smith is the one who racks up the glamorous statistics, Horford is the piece that truly helps Atlanta win games.
DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 7.4 points, 8.3 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 2.0 blocks, 0.5 steals
It's not a decline in production that DeAndre Jordan must bounce back from during the 2012-13 campaign, but rather a dip in public perception.
Going into last season, Jordan was viewed as a viable candidate to break out and make good on his massive potential. He was going to become more than just a dunker on offense, and do more than only block shots on the other end of the court.
After the year, he was considered a disappointment, despite playing efficient offense and posting a PER of 16.39.
Jordan, hard as it may be to remember, is still only 24 years old. Improvement is bound to come.
Even if it doesn't, Jordan has still been a decent player and a great shot-blocker, despite his inability to position himself properly on defense.
Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 19.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.8 blocks, 0.2 steals
Brook Lopez is one of the best offensive centers in the entire basketball world, but that's only true when his feet are working. Last year, one of them wasn't.
He'll be good to go this season after signing a max contract to stay with the Nets as they transition from New Jersey to Brooklyn. Joey Villar of The Philippine Star relayed the following quote from the Stanford product:
I’m probably around 90 percent okay, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be back in full shape entering the NBA season.
Even though Lopez is convinced that only players under 7'0" are allowed to crash the boards, he can still put up 20 points on any given night. From a position that is notoriously thin in the current NBA landscape, that's quite valuable.
Lopez's defensive and rebounding shortcomings might be too much for him to overcome and earn an All-Star bid, but he'll still be yet another key contributor on a suddenly talented Nets squad.
O.J. Mayo, Dallas Mavericks
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 12.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.3 blocks, 1.1 steals (for Memphis Grizzlies)
O.J. Mayo hasn't been able to replicate the success of his first two seasons in the league. Fresh out of USC, the volume-shooting 2-guard posted remarkably similar seasons, averaging 18 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game for those two years.
Relegated to the bench over the next couple of seasons, Mayo wasn't able to commit himself to the backup role, and his numbers suffered tremendously. His percentages plummeted, and he didn't show the same level of enthusiasm.
In dire need of a fresh start, Mayo signed on with the Dallas Mavericks and should have plenty of opportunities to loft up shots in a weak backcourt.
Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 21.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 7.9 assists, 0.7 blocks, 0.9 steals
Derrick Rose struggled with injuries throughout the follow-up campaign to his MVP-winning season, then tore his ACL at the end of the Chicago Bulls' playoff opener.
Obviously, that's not what the league's second-best point guard—when healthy—was looking to do during the 2011-12 season.
It's going to take a long time for D-Rose to recover and get back to full strength. No one knows exactly when he'll return, or how good he'll be when he steps onto the court again.
However, in a day and age where elite athletes like Adrian Peterson can recover from a torn ACL and MCL in just eight months, Rose has a chance to perform at an MVP level before the upcoming regular season comes to a close.
Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves
2011-12 Per-Game Stats: 10.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 8.2 assists, 0.2 blocks, 2.2 steals
Speaking of recoveries from torn ACLs, Ricky Rubio will be looking to get back into playing shape and pick up where he left off for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Rubio was injured in March, and an AOL Sporting News report has him targeting a return in December, meaning that he'll only miss around 15 games. If Rubio is at full strength that quickly, he's going to help lead a very serious charge for the playoffs with the Wolves.
During the time he spent on the court, the Spanish floor general was one of the best playmakers in the NBA, displaying creativity and unbelievable court vision at all times.
Even if his scoring doesn't improve quickly, Rubio is already on the fast track toward elite status.