Every NBA season it always seems that a few unexpected players emerge during the course of the grueling 82-game campaign, raising both their individual level of play and the play of their team. Last season, Jeremy Lin, Marcin Gortat and Nikola Pekovic all exceeded expectations, playing tremendous basketball and being integral in what success their teams had in 2011-2012.
No matter how talented a squad is, there is no denying the benefit of getting consistent contributions from an unlikely source. The emergence of a young player or the revitalization of a veteran can be enough to galvanize a ball club and turn around an entire season.
Even the strongest teams like Miami and Los Angeles would benefit from getting contributions from more than just their stars.
Although, obviously not every team is going to have a player break out and help carry the squad through next season, here is one player on each NBA team who both the fans and the organizations should hope steps up in 2012-2013.
The Atlanta Hawks’ decision to sacrifice their present for their future and deal both Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams was widely praised across the league, but has left the team with some serious problems at the shooting guard and small forward positions. Enter Anthony Morrow, one of the few impact players that Atlanta was able to net in their two deals, and the player who they need to step up next season.
Morrow has always been regarded as a solid shooter, his career average of 12.1 points on 45.1 percent shooting from the field and 42.6 percent from three-point range can certainly attest to that, but the Hawks will need the Georgia Tech product to be more than just a spot-up option.
Morrow could very well be a starter, either at 2-guard or as an undersized forward, and in order for Atlanta to have a shot at another postseason berth they need him to consistently drill open shots, create his own offense and stretch the floor for teammates Josh Smith and Al Horford to work.
The 6’5” guard has four strong NBA seasons to his name, but will have to play his best basketball in order to provide stability to Atlanta’s deep but disorderly backcourt.
Of all the moves the Boston Celtics made this summer to reload their roster, one of the team’s more unheralded decision was to retain big man Chris Wilcox, who played well for the team off the bench but missed the end of the season due to a heart ailment.
The Celtics shored up their frontcourt by re-signing Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass, as well as drafting Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo, but the reality is that Wilcox should still be the team’s first big man off the bench. He averaged a solid 5.4 points and 4.4 boards per game in the 2011-2012 season on 59.8 percent shooting, and will need to continue to put up efficient numbers in limited minutes.
Boston will start Garnett and Bass in the frontcourt, but Wilcox needs to be ready to spell Garnett, who will be dealing with a full season of playing almost exclusively center for the first time in his career, and Wilcox will need to give the team quality minutes crashing the glass and finishing in the paint.
Wilcox, despite being 30 years old, will also have to run the floor extremely hard. He was one of the few Boston players last season to consistently get up and down the court and this iteration of the Celts will try to run more and use their star point guard Rajon Rondo’s court vision and athleticism.
He is far from the biggest star in Celtic green, but the play of Chris Wilcox next season will go a long way in determining if Boston can earn Banner 18.
One of the Los Angeles Clippers’ unexpected playoff heroes last season was Reggie Evans, a midseason acquisition who capitalized on his limited playing time masterfully by attacking the boards tenaciously and playing aggressive defense off the bench. Now on a new deal with Brooklyn, Evans will have to provide the same grit and hustle for a Nets squad that wants to contend in a tougher Eastern Conference.
In last season’s playoffs, Evans averaged just three points per game, but managed to snag 7.3 boards in just 18 minutes of playing time. He carves out excellent position, makes multiple efforts and can simply out-muscle his man despite his lack of size at 6’8”.
Brooklyn has plenty of star power, but after re-signing offense-first center Brook Lopez to a max deal they desperately needed to add a frontcourt player willing to do the little things necessary to win. Evans will see time at both power forward and center as needed, and will need to use his strength and instincts to offset being somewhat small for the positions.
No team can achieve a deep postseason run without having rotation players that don’t care about how many minutes they play or touches they get and in order to have a successful inaugural season in New York, Reggie Evans must be the same impact player he was for Los Angeles in 2011-2012.
Jeffery Taylor has yet to play a minute of actual NBA basketball, but the Vanderbilt standout and 31st overall selection in the 2012 draft will have an immediate role with the Charlotte Bobcats as a defender and shooter coming off of the bench. He is not your ordinary second-round selection and it was actually quite a surprise to see him fall to Charlotte with their second overall selection.
In his final college season, Taylor averaged 16.1 points and 5.6 rebounds while shooting a very impressive 49.3 percent from the floor and 42.3 percent from beyond the arc. While no one can expect him to put up similar numbers in the league, it is important that he find a role in the rotation using his superb athleticism and defensive instincts.
The Bobcats’ defense last season was downright anemic, but with the additions of Taylor, Brendan Haywood and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the team has the opportunity to improve significantly on that end of the floor. Taylor guarded some of college basketball’s best scorers, and held them in check using his physicality and lateral quickness.
Taylor made significant strides both as a shooter and a slasher over his collegiate career and because Charlotte is still far removed from contention, the team will likely give him minutes from the start of the season. If the Bobcats want to take a step out of the NBA’s cellar, they need Jeffery Taylor to pick up where he left off in Nashville.
Obviously big things are expected of Nate Robinson, Marquis Teague and Kirk Hinrich in light of Derrick Rose’s ACL tear, but one player that the Chicago Bulls are also hoping will step into a featured role is second year swingman Jimmy Butler.
Butler barely saw the floor in his rookie season, averaging a paltry 2.6 points and 1.3 rebounds per game on 40.5 percent shooting from the floor. However, with Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer no longer on the roster there are plenty of available minutes in the rotation at both wing spots that Chicago fans are hoping Butler will be able to fill.
Butler fits the Tom Thibodeau mold perfectly, he plays aggressive, smart perimeter defense, is capable of scoring the basketball and always puts in a strong effort. He is not a great outside shooter, but Butler can hit from mid-range, slash to the hole and even crash the boards from the perimeter.
Chicago is in for a trying season with their MVP point guard sidelined for the brunt of the campaign, and though they were able to bring in a few solid players at the lead guard spot, the team is going to need contributions from an unexpected source in order to make up for their losses in free agency.
Jimmy Butler has the talent to carve out a spot in this rotation, and the success of the Bulls in the 2012-2013 season may very well depend on it.
C.J. Miles hung around on the free agent market longer than many expected, but ultimately ended up agreeing to a deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Despite drafting 2-guard Dion Waiters fourth overall and re-signing improving small forward Alonzo Gee, the Cavs still need a proven presence on the perimeter alongside Kyrie Irving, and need Miles to play some of his best basketball.
In the 2011-2012 campaign Miles averaged a solid 9.1 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game, but shot a disappointing 38.1 percent from the field and 30.7 percent from distance. He is expected to challenge for a starting job next season and will need to improve his numbers across the board.
Miles is a decent outside shooter, but excels at attacking his defender off the dribble and finding his way to the basket. Cleveland needs someone that can create offense besides Kyrie Irving, and Miles will likely be working both with and without the ball next season. He can line-up at both the two and three spots, and is going to be asked to help dictate the pace and run the floor in transition with Irving, Waiters and Tristan Thompson.
The Cavaliers are not yet ready to make a playoff push until their young nucleus develops, but in order to take a step forward next season C.J. Miles must provide the team with consistent scoring and play-making every night.
The Dallas Mavericks may have added talented, but mercurial shooting guard O.J. Mayo to be their starter for the 2012-2013 season, but in order for the new-look Mavs to extend their streak of playoff appearances they will need Delonte West, one of the league’s perennially underrated guards, to have yet another solid season.
In 44 games for Dallas, West averaged 9.6 points, 2.3 boards and 3.2 dimes per game while shooting 46.1 percent from the field and 35.5 percent from three-point territory. He logged time at both guard spots and made a consistent impact on both the defensive and offensive ends of the court.
Though he is injury prone, West is still capable of playing hard-nosed perimeter defense, making plays for himself and teammates and hitting his share of timely shots. West may not be a starting-caliber guard anymore, but he should easily see 20+ minutes per game as the primary backup to both Mayo and Darren Collison.
As one of the few Mavericks with plenty of playoff experience and a knowledge of the team’s system, he will likely take on a leadership role from day one and be asked to help offset the loss of Jason Terry and Jason Kidd.
If Dallas wants any shot at contending for another championship with Dirk Nowitzki as their franchise player, they will need to take advantage of their depth and have their role players, particularly, West play strong basketball all season long.
The Denver Nuggets remain among the league’s deepest teams, and in order to have the deep postseason run many believe they are capable of they need a handful of obvious players to have quality seasons. However, one key piece that will have a huge impact on how the Nuggets fair in 2012-2013 is reserve point guard Andre Miller, who re-signed with the team this summer for another three years.
Miller came off the bench for 59 of Denver’s 66 games last season, but still averaged 9.7 points, 3.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game while shooting 43.8 percent from the field. He provided the Nuggets with savvy play-making, some timely scoring and a phenomenal mentor for budding star Ty Lawson.
What makes Miller essential is that he provides Denver’s offense with a dynamic beyond just pushing the ball in transition. Miller thrives in the half court, is incredibly unselfish and always manages to make his teammates better. He is also a capable post-up threat that can back down opposing guards and score both in the paint and from mid-range.
Miller is also able to play alongside Lawson in the backcourt, giving the Nuggets a pair of phenomenal passers that can hurt a defense in different ways.
In order to contend in the Western Conference, Denver needs to be more than just a team of superb athletes, and if Andre Miller has yet another strong campaign they could potentially find their way into the championship conversation.
With the emergence of Brandon Knight as a starting caliber point guard, Rodney Stuckey was an afterthought to many Detroit basketball fans, but in order for this team to have a shot at earning an eighth seed next season they need the de facto starting 2-guard to have an efficient and productive season opposite Knight in the backcourt.
Stuckey regressed slightly last season, averaging 14.8 points, 2.6 boards and 3.8 dimes per game while shooting 42.9 percent from the field and 31.7 percent from three-point range. He played his fewest minutes per game in the past four seasons and averaged his fewest assists since his rookie campaign.
Stuckey is not a particularly skilled outside shooter, and he needs to find a way to consistently drill perimeter shots in order to create space for Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond down low. He will be spending less time with the ball in his hands thanks to Knight’s play-making ability, and must capitalize on that by being active both as a spot-up shooter and a slasher without the ball.
While Detroit may not see Stuckey as a starter long-term, he is clearly the best option they have since they dealt Ben Gordon and his play next season will be integral in whether they make positive strides in this prolonged rebuilding process.
One of the bigger steals in free agency, the Golden State Warriors snagged Carl Landry on a two-year deal, shoring up the power forward position and adding some more frontcourt scoring alongside David Lee and Andrew Bogut. Landry has always been a solid player during his time in the league, but in order for these Warriors to contend for a playoff berth, which they have the talent to do, he needs to capitalize on his opportunities offensively while also contributing on the boards.
During his 2011-2012 stint in New Orleans, Landry averaged a solid 12.5 points and 5.2 rebounds on 50.3 percent shooting from the floor. He is a reliable mid-range shooter with a decent set of post moves who despite being a bit small at 6’9” can find his way into the paint and consistently make shots.
Because Bogut and Lee are injury prone, Golden State needs Landry to stay healthy and productive, as he will likely see at least a handful of starts over the course of the year. Although not a great defender, Landry can put the ball in the basket and also make his presence felt on the boards.
The Warriors are a young team with an incredibly bright future thanks to players like Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes, but if they want to break their lengthy playoff drought they need the veteran Landry to stay healthy and contribute on both ends of the court.
Toney Douglas began the 2011-2012 season as the New York Knicks’ starting point guard, but ultimately was benched after the emergence of Jeremy Lin. Although he will again be playing behind the superstar guard with the Houston Rockets, Douglas should see a decent amount of time on the floor and will need to have a bounce back year in order to provide the Rockets with some depth at the point guard position.
In a roller-coaster of a campaign, Douglas averaged 6.2 points, 1.9 boards and two assists per game in 38 appearances while shooting 32.4 percent overall and just 23.1 percent from behind the arc. He will need to be much more efficient shooting the basketball next season as Houston could desperately use some offensive production outside of Lin and Kevin Martin.
Despite being just 26 years old is actually one of the older and more experienced players on this Rockets team after his time at Florida State and with New York. He may not be a leader, but he must to show maturity and growth both on and off the court.
Douglas should see time at both guard spots and given that Houston lacks an impact perimeter defender, he could very well be matched up against some of the NBA’s better scorers. He has the platform to prove that his 2011-2012 season was an aberration, and while the Rockets have little chance at a winning season, it is important that they find out just who on their roster they can build around.
The signing of Gerald Green by Indiana this summer was seen as unnecessary by many. Given that the team already has an above average small forward in Danny Granger and a quickly improving shooting guard in Paul George it seemed excessive to bring in another young, athletic swingman but Green could actually prove integral to the Pacers replicating their 2011-2012 postseason success.
After earning a spot with the New Jersey Nets, Green capitalized on his opportunity, averaging 12.9 points, 3.5 boards and 1.1 assists per game while connecting on 48.1 percent of his shots from the floor and 39.1 percent of his three-pointers, proving he was more than just an athletic high-flyer.
Green fits perfectly with the identity of this young Indiana squad and will be the anchor of their second unit offense. He will not see heavy minutes consistently, but, along with D.J. Augustin, Green will have the task of keeping the Pacers’ offense running smoothly and being efficient with his scoring.
Green has the ability to penetrate and get to the basket, but has also improved as a floor-spacing shooter, making him far more difficult to guard. In addition, he made tremendous strides defensively last season, putting in a good effort on a nightly basis.
After his success with the Nets, there is no doubt that Gerald Green belongs in the NBA, and in order for Indiana to continue growing as a team they need him to have another strong campaign.
Matt Barnes’ decision to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers made headlines briefly because the former Laker decided to join his former team’s crosstown rival, but the move was largely dismissed as Barnes would fight for time in a very crowded Clippers rotation. While Barnes may not see more than 20 minutes per night, his play is still integral in deciding if Los Angeles can build on their surprising run to the second round of the playoffs.
In the 2011-2012 season, Barnes averaged 7.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and two assists per game while shooting 45.2 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent from three-point range. However, he saw his minutes decrease significantly in the playoffs and simply couldn’t produce any kind of consistent offense against either Denver or Oklahoma City.
In L.A., Barnes will play behind Caron Butler and compete for minutes with Grant Hill, but his hustle and defensive ability will earn him his playing time. Barnes is a physical player on both ends of the court who can pitch in on the boards, defend the perimeter and even score the ball if necessary.
With Reggie Evans in Brooklyn and Randy Foye in Utah, the Clippers could use another player who is willing to play scrappy defense and make the little plays necessary to win games. Hill is not the elite defender he was in the past and so Los Angeles could very well look for Barnes to guard the opposing team’s best perimeter scorer at times.
Matt Barnes is far from the biggest name on this star-studded Clipper team, but in order for them to emerge as a true contender, they need him producing off the bench every night.
Claims could be made that Jodie Meeks deserves this spot, but while the Kentucky sharpshooter's role in the Lakers' rotation is clearly defined, Devin Ebanks has the potential to be much more important thanks to his defensive play and high upside. He will start the season playing behind Metta World Peace and Kobe Bryant, but has the potential to carve out a bigger role in 2012-2013 than he had in his sophomore campaign.
In the lockout shortened season, Ebanks averaged four points and 2.3 rebounds per game while appearing in just 24 contests and shooting 41.6 percent from the field. However, he started a dozen of those games and actually had his share of solid moments while on the floor.
Ebanks is a superb athlete who has the capability to defend multiple positions and with World Peace declining and Bryant needing to preserve his legs, could see some time guarding elite wing players thanks to his size and aggressive play.
Offensively, he will not be asked to do much but stay moving and capitalize on the attention his superstar teammates receive. He does not need to contribute much but if he can make a few mid-range shots and find his way to the basket that will help keep opposing defenses honest.
Ebanks has the opportunity to cement his role in the Los Angeles rotation next season, and while he will not be a featured player for the Lakers his play will help decide if L.A. can live up to their pre-season hype.
Darrell Arthur missed the entirety of the 2011-2012 season after tearing his Achilles’ tendon, but back and healthy the former Kansas Jayhawk will be an integral part of Memphis’ frontcourt rotation and will look to build off of a strong 2010-2011 campaign.
During his last full season, Arthur averaged 9.1 points, 4.2 boards and 0.7 assists per game while shooting 49.7 percent from the field. He provided depth behind both Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol as needed and proved to be capable of finishing at the rim and also protecting the defensive glass.
The Grizzlies have Mareese Speights, but he is more of a natural center and primarily a stretch big man that focuses on offense and not defense. Arthur will be asked to guard the post and spell Randolph, who is coming off of a lackluster and injury plagued season.
Arthur is a talented athlete that runs the floor hard, does the yeoman work necessary for his team to win and does not need plays run for him to be effective.
This Memphis squad has the talent to be a factor in the postseason, but they need Arthur playing well in order to get back to the bruising style of inside-out basketball that got them to the second round of the 2011 playoffs.
The Miami Heat have the talent to win another championship just on the strength of their starting lineup, but if they want to be considered true favorites over Western Conference powers like Oklahoma City and Los Angeles, they will need players like free agent acquisition Rashard Lewis, to have strong seasons and compliment the Big Three.
Lewis is a shell of his former self, and after averaging just 7.8 points, one assist and 3.9 rebounds per game for Washington while shooting 38.5 percent from the floor and 23.9 percent from three-point range in 28 games he may seem like an afterthought, but the former All-Star actually can be a contributor for Miami.
The Heat’s offense is predicated upon having shooters that can spot-up and capitalize on open looks, something Lewis is still capable of doing. He also presents a match-up problem given his size and has the ability to react to a closeout and get to the basket.
He will not be asked to score 15 points per game or to carry the team’s offense, but his shooting and ability to spell both LeBron James and Chris Bosh for small but crucial stretches is important to whether the reigning NBA champions can pull off a repeat.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute has long been regarded as one of the league’s better perimeter defenders, but in order for the Milwaukee Bucks to return to the postseason and find a way out of ninth seed purgatory, they need the small forward to step up his play and become a true starting caliber player.
Because the Bucks start both Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, they desperately lack perimeter defense, but Mbah a Moute has the capacity to make up for that thanks to his quickness, defensive instincts and ability to cover multiple positions. The problem has always been that the UCLA product could not produce offensively like he could defensively.
Last season, he averaged 7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 0.7 assists per game while shooting 51 percent from the field in 43 appearances and 22 starts. In order for the Bucks to improve, they need Mbah a Moute’s scoring closer to double-digits and for him to be more aggressive as a cutter.
Mike Dunleavy can provide consistent scoring thanks to his three-point shooting ability, but Milwaukee should be more concerned with getting the 26 year old Mbah a Moute to be more of a two-way factor. His improvement is integral to the team’s future.
Some people may question whether a former All-Star like Brandon Roy can be considered an “unexpected player” but given the widespread speculation and debate over whether he can hold up for an entire season or be a quality starter, he seems to fit the description.
After taking a season off to benefit his ailing knees, Roy felt healthy enough to return to the league and signed a two-year deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves. While few are expecting Roy to put up numbers like his career line of 19 points, 4.3 boards and 4.7 assists per game on 46 percent shooting from the floor, he does need to provide this up-and-coming Timberwolves team with consistent offensive production.
Minnesota has the talent to make the postseason, but this extremely young team will be looking to newcomers Roy and Andrei Kirilenko to provide leadership as they battle through a brutal Western Conference.
Roy will not have the burden of being the first option, but in order for the Timberwolves to sneak into the playoffs they need him to prove the doubters wrong and be a force both as a scorer and a playmaker. If he can provide consistent double-digit scoring and crucial on-court leadership, Minnesota could be a very scary team.
All the attention surrounding the New Orleans Hornets has been on lottery picks Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers, and, to a lesser extent, free agent acquisition Ryan Anderson and de facto starting point guard Greivis Vasquez, but one potential impact player who has gone overlooked is likely starting small forward Al-Farouq Aminu.
Aminu was acquired in the Chris Paul trade and had a decent but unspectacular first season in New Orleans, averaging six points, one assist and 4.7 rebounds per game on 41.1 percent shooting from the field. Despite his unimpressive numbers, Aminu will likely begin the season starting at the three spot for the Hornets given their lack of depth.
Aminu excelled in college thanks to his strength and play in the paint, but he needs to prove he has some degree of finesse to his game and is more than simply a slasher. He must add some sort of consistent outside shot and play the kind of aggressive defense he is capable of in order to prove that he can be a part of the Hornets’ future.
There is no denying that Al-Farouq Aminu has talent and plenty of untapped potential, but in order for New Orleans to begin their rebuilding project on the right note the Wake Forest star needs to have somewhat of a breakout 2012-2013 season.
Kurt Thomas was brought to New York in the sign-and-trade deal for Raymond Felton, and while many figured that the league’s resident oldest player would be nothing but an afterthought, he actually should see some minutes given the lack of depth behind Amar’e Stoudemire.
In his lone season with Portland, Thomas averaged three points, 3.5 boards and 0.9 dimes per game while shooting 46.5 percent from the floor. He played a solid 15.2 minutes per game, and will likely be used in the same capacity playing behind Stoudemire and occasionally Tyson Chandler.
The Knicks need Thomas to do the kinds of thing he’s always done; hit the glass, play respectable defense and bury mid-range jump shots if left open. Given Stoudemire’s injury prone nature it is also quite possible that he may have a few games of heavy minutes, especially if the team cannot secure another reserve big man before the season begins.
Thomas will be 40 years old when the season begins, but despite his lack of athleticism and his advanced age he will still be an important part of New York’s rotation in a limited capacity. He does not need to provide brilliant numbers, but if the Knicks are going to take the next step and make a deep postseason push they need their bench players like Thomas to be effective while on the court.
Admittedly choosing an unexpected player for Oklahoma City was difficult, but given that he is expected to see little floor time behind Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka, rookie Perry Jones III actually fits the bill quite nicely. Once expected to be a high lottery pick, Jones saw his stock drop precipitously due to concerns about his knee and wound up going 28th to OKC.
In his sophomore season at Baylor, Jones averaged 13.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game while connecting on 50 percent of his shot attempts from the field and 30.3 percent from three-point territory.
Although he will not see much time on the court in his first campaign, it would be huge for the Thunder to have another player capable of scoring points and producing his own offense.
Perry Jones is a unique player thanks to his mix of size and skill, but what often held him back in college was that he refused to be aggressive and would sometimes go through long stretches of making no impact on the court. That simply cannot be the case when he makes his NBA debut.
Oklahoma City lost in the Finals last season because they did not have a player beyond Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden that could produce points, and in order for them to have a different end to the 2012-2013 season, they need Perry Jones III to play well from the jump.
After being traded to the Houston Rockets and cut from the team, E’Twaun Moore, a former second-round selection of the Boston Celtics, wound up signing a deal as a free agent with the Orlando Magic. Although Moore did not see much time on the court with the veteran-laden Celtics, he could very well see consistent minutes in this mess of an Orlando rotation.
With Boston, Moore played just 8.7 minutes per game while averaging 2.9 points, 0.9 boards, 0.9 assists on 38.1 percent field-goal shooting and 37.8 percent shooting from three-point territory. He had a few solid moments, but ultimately did not get the chance to showcase his full range of skills.
Moore is capable of playing both guard spots, can hit shots from the perimeter and has a very nice handle. He is a decent passer, but excels at creating his own offense and navigating his way into the lane. The only point guards on the Magic’s roster besides Moore are Jameer Nelson and Ish Smith, meaning Moore will certainly have a chance to prove his worth.
This Orlando team is not going anywhere anytime soon given how little they received in exchange for Dwight Howard, but while many fans anticipate plenty of playing time for the rookies and young pieces the team acquired, finding a solid rotation piece in Moore could be one of very few bright spots next season.
It’s not going to be an easy year for the Magic, and in order for them to win a handful of games, they could use a strong sophomore season from E’Twaun Moore among others.
When Nick Young signed with the Philadelphia 76ers, many fans were surprised that the team was still looking to add to its perimeter rotation, and even with Andre Iguodala in Denver and Andrew Bynum in Philly there is still skepticism about whether the deal was a smart move. However, the mercurial Young has an opportunity to prove his naysayers wrong and will be a crucial part of the Sixers’ rotation next season.
Splitting time between Washington and Los Angeles, Young managed to average a solid 14.2 points, 2.1 boards and 0.9 assists per game last season on 40.3 percent shooting from the field and 36.5 percent shooting from three-point territory, but he struggled mightily in the playoffs.
Although he will not be the starter when the season tips off, Young’s ability to create his own offense and drill open shots will be very important for Philadelphia, who struggled at times last season to put points on the board.
Though he can be a black hole at times, Young has a knack for putting the ball in the basket and should work well both running the floor with Philadelphia’s young guns and hitting open shots thanks to kick-out passes from the likes of Jrue Holiday and Andrew Bynum.
The ceiling on Young as a player may be lower than it once seemed, but his shooting ability and offensive production should not be ignored as this young 76ers team vies for the Atlantic Division crown.
The Phoenix Suns brought in Jermaine O’Neal to provide some depth in the frontcourt behind Marcin Gortat, Channing Frye and Luis Scola, but the team never expected that he would actually be an important piece of their rotation. However, with Frye expected to miss significant time due to an enlarged heart, O’Neal has moved up a spot on the depth chart and is now the Suns’ primary backup at the center position.
During an injury plagued 2011-2012 campaign with Boston O’Neal averaged five points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.7 rejections per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field. He appeared in just 25 games before being shut down for the season due to a wrist injury.
In Phoenix, O’Neal must not only stay on the court, but contribute on both ends. The days of him accruing double-digit points or rebounds are long gone, but he must still find a way to score a few baskets per game, snare a few tough rebounds and provide a shot-blocking presence behind Gortat.
O’Neal has not appeared in more than 42 games just once since 2008, but in order for Phoenix to find success in the post-Steve Nash era and potentially sneak into the playoffs as an eighth seed he must stay healthy and make an impact during his time on the court.
He does not have to be Indiana Jermaine O’Neal, but he certainly cannot be Boston Jermaine O’Neal.
During his fairly brief tenure in Portland, Luke Babbit has almost always been an afterthought. Despite a few nice moments here and there he rarely saw the court and was even seen by some as the Blazers’ human victory cigar. However, now that the team is firmly in rebuilding mode Babbit needs to show the talent that he displayed during his time at Nevada.
Last season, the 6’9” wing averaged 5.1 points and 2.4 rebounds per game while shooting 41 percent from the field and an impressive 43 percent from three-point range. With more playing time at the end of the season he played well, racking up three consecutive double digit games and capitalizing on his opportunity.
Despite having Nicolas Batum back Portland is still fairly thin on the wing and while Babbitt will compete for minutes with Will Barton and Victor Claver, Elliott Williams’ Achilles’ injury opens up some more minutes on the floor.
Babbitt is a decent athlete and scorer that can find his way to the rim, and shot the ball very well from beyond the arc last season. He needs to become more of a factor on the glass and defensively, but there is no denying that he has the potential to be a consistent scorer at the professional level.
The Blazers have an outside shot at making the playoffs next season if their young nucleus gels instantly, but in order to do that players like Luke Babbitt must provide good minutes off the bench.
The Sacramento Kings had a glaring hole at small forward last season that they attempted to fill with Tyreke Evans, and while Evans played decently, the team wisely acquired James Johnson from the Toronto Raptors in an effort to shore up the three position. Now Johnson, who has had a mundane NBA career, will have to help fill a major hole on a Kings team that is filled with young talent.
In the 2011-2012 season, Johnson averaged 9.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and two assists per game while shooting 45 percent from the field and 31.7 percent from three-point range. He had a handful of impressive games down the stretch for Toronto, but now goes to a Sacramento team that will need him to not just contribute on the court, but help fix the team’s dysfunctional culture.
Johnson is a tremendous athlete that can slash his way to the hoop and also make his presence felt both on the boards and handling the basketball. He improved his jumper last season and has the versatility to also read passing lanes and even block the occasional shot.
This Kings team is filled with underachievers and malcontents, and they need players like Johnson to play up to their full potential in order to set an example and help sort out the team’s myriad of positional issues on the court.
DeJuan Blair has actually been a consistent contributor for San Antonio, starting regularly, providing grit on the interior and proving to be a nice compliment to Tim Duncan despite being undersized at just 6’7”. The reason Blair makes this list is because the Spurs seemed intent on trading the former second-round selection, and many expect him not to have a big role with the team in 2012-2013.
Last season, Blair appeared in 64 games and averaged 9.5 points, 5.5 boards and 1.2 assists per game on 53.4 percent shooting. However, his minutes and numbers plummeted during the playoffs as he barely saw the court behind Duncan, Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw.
Duncan and Diaw re-signed with San Antonio, but both are a year older and are clearly declining. With the way that Greg Popovich likes to rest his veterans during the season, it is important that Blair plays at a high level so Pop feels comfortable resting his main players, who are integral in San Antonio making one more run at a fifth championship.
Blair can provide muscle on the inside, aggression on the offensive and defensive glass, and he is always a scrapper despite sometimes struggling defensively. He may not have the upside of fellow big man Splitter, but his playing well is nonetheless essential for the Spurs’ chances at bringing home another banner.
Dominic McGuire will never be anything resembling a star in the NBA, but the new Toronto Raptor has carved out a niche for himself as a tough perimeter defender who is not a complete offensive liability. He had a strong 2011-2012 season with Golden State, and will bring some much needed physicality and defense to this young but talented Raptors squad.
With the Warriors, McGuire averaged 3.5 points, 3.8 boards and 1.7 assists on 44.8 percent shooting from the field, but consistently played above-average defense and capitalized on his opportunities to play big minutes at the end of the season.
Toronto has a number of high-octane athletes on their roster, but very few players that can give a consistent effort on the defensive end. McGuire is not a scorer like DeMar DeRozan or Andre Bargnani, but he can keep his man in check and make him work for every shot.
McGuire’s ability to cover multiple positions and also to chip in on the boards is what has earned him a home throughout his NBA career. This Raptors squad has the personnel to make a push for the postseason, but if they want to do so they need Dominic McGuire to lock down the elite scorers of the Eastern Conference.
Randy Foye joining the Utah Jazz received much less attention than the team’s decision to deal Devin Harris for Marvin Williams or to acquire Mo Williams, but Foye, who had yet another quality season with the Los Angeles Clippers, fills a very important role for a Jazz team looking to make a second consecutive playoff run.
Foye spent the brunt of last season starting after Chauncey Billups was injured and filled in admirably, averaging 11 points, 2.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. Though he shot just 39.8 percent from the field overall he managed to connect on 38.6 percent of his attempts from three-point range.
In addition to providing this Jazz team with some much needed playoff experience, he gives them a pure shooter that, along with Williams at point guard, will force defenses to play tight and open up room in the paint for Utah’s myriad of skilled big men to work. Too often last season teams simply packed the paint against the Jazz, daring them to beat them from outside.
Despite being undersized as a shooting guard, Foye can play aggressive defense and is also capable of handling the ball for stretches in a point guard role if necessary. Whether he starts ahead of Alec Burks and Gordon Heyward is unclear, but the play of Randy Foye will go a long way in determining whether Utah earns another playoff spot in 2012-2013.
Trevor Ariza was acquired in Washington’s deal with New Orleans that sent Rashard Lewis to the Hornets, but while most expect Ariza to start, few grasp how important he could be for the new-look Wizards in the 2012-2013 season. Ariza provides Washington with some much needed perimeter defense and is also capable of not only producing offense for himself, but even making plays with the ball and taking some pressure off John Wall.
For New Orleans last season, Ariza put up a robust stat line of 10.8 points, 5.2 boards, 3.3 assists and 1.7 steals per game on 41.7 percent field-goal shooting and 33.3 percent from three-point range, and there’s no reason he can’t put up similar numbers during his first year with the Wizards.
As long as Bradley Beal can hit the ground running and Wall takes a developmental leap in his third campaign, Washington has a shot at moving from a perennial cellar team to a team vying for a shot at the postseason. If Ariza can provide tight perimeter defense and also contribute on the offensive end, this Washington team actually boasts one of the Conference’s more solid, versatile starting lineups.
The deal for Ariza was largely a move to dump Rashard Lewis and usher in a new culture for the Wizards, but the former Laker could very well be an impact player for Washington and at the very least his high character will help to significantly improve the team’s attitude and atmosphere. He may never play as well as he did with Houston, but Trevor Ariza may be the third most important player for the Wizards behind Beal and Wall.