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Predicting the Most Improved Player on Every NBA Team for the 2012-13 Season

Branden FitzPatrickCorrespondent ISeptember 30, 2012

Predicting the Most Improved Player on Every NBA Team for the 2012-13 Season

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    Every NBA season, each franchise has a player who emerges and elevates his game to the next level.

    The 2012-13 season is just a month away, and already the predictions for what is going to happen and who is going to have a strong season have begun.

    A guy who has been given more responsibility—whether that be more minutes, more touches or more shots—is a likely candidate to improve the most.

    We will chose one player from each team who is likely to show improvement from the year prior.

Boston Celtics: Avery Bradley

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    Age: 21

    College: Texas

    Position: Shooting guard

    The rise of Avery Bradley in 2011-12 made the loss of Ray Allen to the Miami Heat less painful. In his sophomore season, he morphed into a defensive hound during his extended minutes due to Allen's trouble with injuries. 

    Bradley's successful sophomore campaign was cut short in the 2012 NBA playoffs because of a dislocated shoulder. The word now on Bradley is he won't be available until January 2013. That's a large chunk of the season to be missing. 

    The injury won't slow down Bradley's production, it will merely postpone it.

    Other than Rajon Rondo, Bradley is the Boston Celtics' best young player. He could be a year away from becoming another star guard for the Celtics.

Brooklyn Nets: MarShon Brooks

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    Age: 23

    College: Providence

    Position: Guard

    Hidden in the midst of this newly crowded Brooklyn Nets roster is a young player heading into his sophomore season loaded with potential. His name is MarShon Brooks, and don't be surprised if he becomes one of the Nets' best players. 

    In Brooks' rookie season, he averaged 12.6 points per game and shot over 40 percent from the field. The Nets roster isn't loaded with young players ready to make an improvement jump.

    Most of the roster is made up of veteran players. Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries are who they are at this point in their careers. None of them are going to improve. 

    As for Brooks, playing with an improved roster and more veteran leadership will improve his game greatly. Brooks may not start this season, but his presence on the court will be known. 

New York Knicks: Carmelo Anthony

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    Age: 28

    College: Syracuse

    Position: Small forward

    Now that LeBron James has won his first NBA championship, Carmelo Anthony is the only one of the big four from the 2003 draft class who hasn't won a title.

    Despite being one of the most talented players in the NBA, Anthony still gets flak for the way he plays. He's been called selfish and has a bad habit of becoming a black hole. 

    The New York Knicks roster has a number of veterans. The only talented young player who has the potential to make the leap, Iman Shumpert, will be slowed after he returns from his ACL tear.

    That leaves Anthony as the player in the best position to improve upon his 2011-12 season. Anthony averaged 22.6 points per game last season, his lowest total since 2008-09. After a successful summer playing in the Olympics, Anthony will rebound in a big way for the Knicks. 

Philadelphia 76ers: Andrew Bynum

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    Age: 24

    College: N/A

    Position: Center

    Andrew Bynum has never had the opportunity in his career to be "the guy." After years of playing in the shadow of Kobe Bryant, Bynum will now have his chance. He is the new face of the Philadelphia 76ers franchise. 

    On the 76ers, Bynum will receive more minutes, more touches and more responsibility than he ever had with the Los Angeles Lakers. He won't have to defer to anyone, and because of this, his numbers will skyrocket.

    Unless Bynum goes down with a serious injury, he shouldn't have much competition to become the most improved 76er in 2012-13.

    Evan Turner could possibly challenge, but so far in his young career, he's failed to make himself stand out. 

Toronto Raptors: Ed Davis

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    Age: 23

    College: North Carolina

    Position: Power forward

    When Ed Davis was drafted 13th by the Toronto Raptors in 2010, he was expected to become a dynamic scoring force in the paint. So far in his young career, Davis has failed to consistently live up to his offensive hype. 

    Considering Davis averages around 23 minutes per game, his rebounding numbers are impressive. In his only two seasons as a pro, Davis averaged 6.9 rebounds per game.

    Davis has to outplay Amir Johnson if he wants more minutes on the floor in the upcoming season. This will be Davis' third year as a pro. DeMar DeRozan will improve as well, but not as much as Davis.

    This will be the year Davis' basketball IQ and athletic ability finally mesh, turning him into a solid player for the Raptors. 

Chicago Bulls: Taj Gibson

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    Age: 27

    College: USC

    Position: Power forward

    The Chicago Bulls roster isn't as imposing as it was two years ago.

    At shooting guard, the Bulls will start Richard Hamilton, who hasn't played at a high level in two seasons.

    Carlos Boozer has started at power forward for the Bulls the past two seasons, but like Hamilton, is a shadow of his former self.

    With Derrick Rose out for at least a portion of the season, that leaves Taj Gibson as the Bull who is likely to show the most improvement. If Boozer continues to decline, Gibson will need to step up and help Luol Deng carry the Bulls in Rose's absence. 

    The 2012-13 season will be Gibson's fourth year in the NBA. If this isn't the year Gibson takes the next step in his game, then how much better can he actually get? 

Cleveland Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving

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    Age: 20

    College: Duke

    Position: Point guard

    This one is easy. No player on the Cleveland Cavaliers will come close to improving as much as Kyrie Irving. After his impressive rookie campaign, many already consider Irving the best young point guard in the NBA.

    Seeing how good Irving was with 18.5 points per game and 5.4 assists per game, there's no reason to believe he won't improve even more. Nothing about his rookie year was a fluke. Irving is just a special talent. 

    Tristan Thompson will make strides in his second year as well, but Irving has a chance to make the All-Star team, especially with Derrick Rose down with an ACL injury. 

Detroit Pistons: Brandon Knight

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    Age: 20

    College: Kentucky

    Position: Point guard

    The battle for the most improved Detroit Piston is going to come down to Brandon Knight or Greg Monroe. 

    Monroe has already proven that he is a legitimate NBA force. He started all 66 games last season and averaged 15.4 points and 9.7 rebounds. Monroe is essentially the DeMarcus Cousins of the Eastern Conference, except without all the sideshow. 

    Despite Knight's impressive rookie season, he hasn't proven himself the way Monroe has. That is why Knight will be the most improved player on the Pistons roster this upcoming season. Monroe will continue to improve, but the jump Knight will make from year one to year two will be more significant. 

    Knight showed he had the ability to score at the NBA level early in his rookie campaign. With a season of experience under his wing, scoring will come even easier for him in 2012-13.  

Indiana Pacers: Paul George

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    Age: 22

    College: Fresno State

    Position: Shooting guard

    As long as Danny Granger is the best player on the Indiana Pacers, the team will always have a second-round ceiling. If Paul George is able to emerge as an All-Star player, all of a sudden the Pacers have a legitimate chance to become either the best or second-best team in the Eastern Conference. 

    George made a significant leap from his rookie season to his sophomore campaign. He became a legit starter for a playoff team while improving his minutes per game, points per game and rebounds per game.

    Similar to Tracy McGrady, George is a freakishly tall (he grew two inches to 6'10'' during the 2011 offseason) shooting guard. He has all the physical tools to become a dominant NBA player. 

    If the Pacers don't want to become stuck in the middle of the pack in the East, they better hope George is their most improved player in the 2012-13 season. 

Milwaukee Bucks: Brandon Jennings

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    Age: 23

    College: N/A

    Position: Point guard

    Brandon Jennings has significantly improved in each of his NBA seasons. Based on this trend, there's no reason to believe he won't improve even more in his fourth season.

    With the 2012-13 season being a contract year for Jennings, and with him desperately wanting a new extension, you can expect him to start the season off firing. 

    Jennings has the most potential on the Milwaukee Bucks roster. Monta Ellis is a fine player, but he is who he is at this point. Jennings can still get better, possibly much better.

    Playing for either a contract extension with the Bucks or a new contract with a new team, Jennings will definitely have something to prove this season. 

Atlanta Hawks: Lou Williams

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    Age: 25

    College: N/A

    Position: Guard

    The Atlanta Hawks essentially replacing Joe Johnson with Lou Williams was a sneaky good move. Williams is younger than Johnson and significantly less expensive.

    With more responsibility, minutes and touches, Williams could end up being just as productive on the court for the Hawks as Johnson was. 

    Williams will have some competition to earn the starting shooting guard spot on the Hawks. Anthony Morrow is a fine player as well, and Williams has shown the ability in the past to be an explosive player off the bench. 

    Regardless if Williams starts or not, he's still the player on the Hawks with the best chance to improve his game.

    On the Philadelphia 76ers, Williams was stuck in a crowded backcourt with players who all play a similar style. Williams' role will be more defined on the Hawks, which will help him improve his game. 

Charlotte Bobcats: Bismack Biyombo

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    Age: 20

    College: N/A

    Position: Power forward/center

    Bismack Biyombo didn't have a fantastic rookie season, but he did show flashes of potential.

    He's undeniably a raw basketball player, but athletically, he's a physical specimen. More NBA experience will do wonders for Biyombo's game. 

    The Charlotte Bobcats' other 2011 draft pick, Kemba Walker, will be bogged down this upcoming season because of the addition of Ramon Sessions. The loss of minutes will hurt Walker's improvement.

    Biyombo will still receive plenty of minutes because the only other power forward on the Bobcats roster is Tyrus Thomas, the same guy who tried to fight his coach in April. 

Miami Heat: Norris Cole

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    Age: 23

    College: Cleveland State

    Position: Point guard

    Norris Cole played so well early in the 2012-13 season, many people thought the Miami Heat might have finally found a serviceable point guard. Instead, Cole's production went down as the season progressed, and Mario Chalmers emerged as a solid player. 

    After a year of experience playing for a championship-winning team, Cole has an opportunity to make himself a luxury for the Heat.

    Point guards aren't asked to do much in the Heat's offense, largely because LeBron James and Dwyane Wade handle most of the ball-handling duties.

    In order to show big signs of improvement, all Cole has to do is step up when the Heat need him to.

Orlando Magic: Arron Afflalo

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    Age: 26

    College: UCLA

    Position: Shooting guard

    There may not be a worse team in the NBA than the Orlando Magic.

    The Magic's frontcourt is made up of Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Gustavo Ayon. Just two years ago, the Magic's frontcourt featured Dwight Howard, Marcin Gortat, Ryan Anderson and Brandon Bass.

    The one player who may benefit from the current Magic situation is Arron Afflalo, who is quietly one of the better shooting guards in the NBA.

    As a member of the Denver Nuggets, Afflalo was part of an offense by comity. In 2011-12, he averaged about 11 field goals a game.

    For the Magic, that number will spike to around 18. More touches for Afflalo will result in more production. The standings might not look good for the Magic, but Afflalo's stat sheet sure will. 

Washington Wizards: John Wall

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    Age: 22

    College: Kentucky

    Position: Point guard

    Everyone keeps waiting for John Wall to make the leap.

    The Washington Wizards made moves in the offseason with the goal of winning now.

    Nene, Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza and the addition of Bradley Beal had things looking good for the Wizards. Then in late September, news came out that Wall would miss eight weeks because of a knee injury.  

    The knee injury is a roadblock for Wall, but it shouldn't stand in his way of reaching his potential. He has all the talent in the world; he just needs to learn how to piece everything together.

    With the 2012-13 season being Wall's third, he has to show substantial improvement. If he doesn't, it may be time to start throwing the "bust" tag around. 

Golden State Warriors: Klay Thompson

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    Age: 22

    College: Washington State

    Position: Guard

    The Golden State Warriors roster is interesting because if everything goes right for them and no one important gets injured, they have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs. 

    One thing that will factor into the Warriors' playoff chances is the development of Klay Thompson.

    Thompson was sensational his rookie season, averaging an efficient 12.5 points per game. It's not a surprise that Thompson is a good player, but it is surprising how good he is this early into his career.

    In the last month of the 2011-12 season, Thompson's minutes rose because of injuries throughout the roster. With more minutes, he responded by averaging 18.6 points per game.

    Thompson will surely receive more playing time this season. If everyone can stay healthy, the Warriors will have a solid player at every position in the starting lineup. In time, Thompson could become the best of the bunch. 

Los Angeles Clippers: Eric Bledsoe

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    Age: 22

    College: Kentucky

    Position: Point guard

    The Los Angeles Clippers roster is interesting because it remains to be seen how well the pieces will fit together.

    Lamar Odom was both a headache and a nonfactor for the Dallas Mavericks last season. Jamal Crawford was quietly pretty terrible last season for the Portland Trail Blazers. Chauncey Billups is still recovering from his torn Achilles tendon.

    The good thing for the Clippers is they still have Chris Paul, who elevates the level of everyone, including third-year man Eric Bledsoe.

    The addition of Paul and missing the start of the 2011-12 season because of injuries showed poorly on Bledsoe's stat sheet.

    With Paul still rehabbing his thumb, it's crucial for the Clippers that Bledsoe is able to step up. This will be the season that Bledsoe steps up and becomes one of the Clippers' key players. 

Los Angeles Lakers: Jodie Meeks

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    Age: 25

    College: Kentucky

    Position: Guard

    One of the most underrated signings of the offseason was Jodie Meeks' two-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers.

    In the past two seasons, Meeks emerged as a solid backup shooting guard for the Philadelphia 76ers. The Lakers have never really had a reliable backup option to Kobe Bryant, although you could argue they didn't need one because Bryant plays nearly 40 minutes per game. 

    Meeks' addition will add relief for Bryant. Playing behind Bryant and with Steve Nash will make Meeks a better player as well. He told the Los Angeles Times:

    I felt like this was the best situation. To have a chance to play for a team like this will make me better. I’m playing with so many good people.

    Meeks understands the great opportunity in front of him, which is why he'll be the Lakers' most improved player in 2012-13. 

Phoenix Suns: Goran Dragic

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    Age: 26

    College: N/A

    Position: Point guard

    Goran Dragic was spectacular for the Houston Rockets after Kyle Lowry was sidelined by injury.

    He averaged double-digit points the last two months of the season and did enough to convince the Phoenix Suns that he would be the perfect replacement to Steve Nash. 

    The Suns roster is limited with talent, so they will call upon Dragic to do a lot. He will be their main scoring option, ball-handler and distributor.

    With so much responsibility, and with so few other options on the roster, there's no way Dragic won't be the most improved player on the Suns in 2012-13. 

Sacramento Kings: DeMarcus Cousins

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    Age: 22

    College: Kentucky

    Position: Center

    DeMarcus Cousins is a player who can be scary good once he figures out a way to become more consistent.

    In Cousins' second season with the Sacramento Kings, he averaged a double-double. It is now clear that Cousins is in fact the Kings' new franchise player, not Tyreke Evans.

    The 2012-13 Kings roster is improved from a season ago, but a lack of leadership and structure will continue to hold the franchise down. The only way the Kings have any shot at surprising people this season is if Cousins comes out playing like a madman.

    It's a definite possibility because there were games Cousins played last season where he looked like the best player in the league.

    Late in the 2011-12 season against the Phoenix Suns, Cousins posted a ridiculous 41-12. The next game, against the Los Angeles Clippers, Cousins finished with only eight points and three rebounds.

    He cannot allow himself to disappear like that if he is to become an elite level player. 

Dallas Mavericks: O.J. Mayo

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    Age: 24

    College: USC

    Position: Shooting guard

    O.J. Mayo hasn't been a bad player for the Memphis Grizzlies these past two seasons, he just hasn't been getting enough playing time.

    The first two years of Mayo's career, he averaged 18 points per game in 38 minutes of action. The next two seasons, Mayo's playing time dropped to an average of 26.5 minutes and only 11.9 points per game.

    Mayo will be a starter for the Dallas Mavericks, so playing time will not be an issue for him. Like for so many players in this league, more playing time equals more production. Other than Dirk Nowitzki, Mayo is the best offensive option in the Mavericks starting lineup. 

    The opportunity Mayo has in Dallas will give him a chance to rejuvenate his career. 

Houston Rockets: Jeremy Lin

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    Age: 24

    College: Harvard

    Position: Point guard

    The Houston Rockets roster was gutted in the offseason for the chance to possibly acquire Dwight Howard. Instead, they ended up with Jeremy Lin, but they don't seem to mind.

    General manager Daryl Morey thinks Lin will be a good player, which is evident because of the contract he offered him. 

    The larger role on the Rockets will force Lin to improve.

    The Rockets are putting a lot of pressure on a guy who only started 25 games last season. Lin will get more minutes and touches than he's ever dreamed of. 

    Chandler Parsons will improve a great deal as well, but not to the extent Lin will. 

Memphis Grizzlies: Quincy Pondexter

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    Age: 24

    College: Washington

    Position: Small forward

    Quincy Pondexter's statistics won't blow anyone away, but he did do a good job last season backing up Rudy Gay off the bench. 

    The Memphis Grizzlies roster is starting to age, so it is imperative that Pondexter is able to step up and become more of a contributor in 2012-13.

    Pondexter has areas where he must improve in order to become a larger contributor for the Grizzlies. His three-point shooting is suspect, and he doesn't grab enough rebounds. 

    Most of the players on the Grizzlies roster are who they are at this point in their career, so Pondexter is the one with the highest chance to make a significant leap. 

New Orleans Hornets: Robin Lopez

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    Age: 24

    College: Stanford

    Position: Center

    Another deal that went under the radar was the New Orleans Hornets' acquisition of Robin Lopez. Lopez isn't as talented as his twin brother, Brook, but as far as backup centers go, he is a nice option. 

    Lopez will back up the 2012 No. 1 pick, Anthony Davis, in 2012-13. Playing time may be limited, but when Lopez does play, he'll be effective.

    If Ryan Anderson eventually moves to small forward, there could be a spot for Lopez in the Hornets starting lineup. 

    Sometimes new scenery is all a player needs when it comes to improvement. Head coach Monty Williams is one of the NBA's best young coaches. He'll find a way to get the most out of Lopez and make him a better player than he ever was for Phoenix. 

San Antonio Spurs: Kawhi Leonard

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    Age: 21

    College: San Diego State

    Position: Small forward

    The next star player of the San Antonio Spurs may be second-year player Kawhi Leonard.

    When Manu Ginobili battled injury issues last season, Leonard stepped up in a big way. Once again, Spurs management made the correct choice in the draft.

    With another year under Gregg Popovich's coaching and being surrounded by elite veteran leadership, it won't take long for Leonard to become a game-changing presence.

    He was not a liability in any way for the Spurs last season. This season, Leonard will be a player opposing coaches need to game plan for. 

Denver Nuggets: JaVale McGee

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    Age: 24

    College: Nevada

    Position: Center

    No player has been openly mocked as much as JaVale McGee has since his debut in 2008. 

    When McGee was a member of the Washington Wizards, he displayed a freakish amount of athletic ability, but was also a notorious bonehead. Time and time again, McGee did things that made people shake their head and just say "Wow." 

    Since being traded to the Denver Nuggets, McGee has started to make people say "Wow" for different reasons.

    Hi 41 games in Denver was the best stretch of his career. He was finally playing for a franchise with a strong structure and surrounded by smart teammates. 

    If McGee can always play like he did in Game 5 of the playoffs against the Los Angeles Lakers, then he has a chance to be a special player.

    With a whole offseason as a member of the Nuggets, McGee's improvement will be noticed from the very start of the 2012-13 season. 

Minnesota Timberwolves: Nikola Pekovic

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    Age: 26

    College: N/A

    Position: Center

    The Minnesota Timberwolves are another one of those teams that quietly assembled a very nice roster. The Wolves' hidden gem is Nikola Pekovic, the 290-pound, 6'11" Montenegrin center.

    Pekovic made a significant leap from year one to year two. In his second year as a pro, he averaged 13.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.

    Teaming with Kevin Love does help. The two have become a dominant rebounding duo, and there's no reason to believe they won't dominate the boards again in the upcoming 2012-13 season. 

    Derrick Williams is another player on the Wolves who is going to be a better in 2012-13, but Pekovic will be more important. His presence in the post will give the Wolves a huge advantage over most teams. 

Oklahoma City Thunder: Eric Maynor

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    Age: 25

    College: Virginia Commonwealth

    Position: Point guard

    As long as Eric Maynor can return smoothly from his ACL injury, then the Oklahoma City Thunder will have a significantly better backup point guard situation than they did a year ago. 

    Maynor has played a limited role with the Thunder since being traded to them midway through his rookie season. Last season, Maynor was expected to become more of a contributor for the Thunder, but his torn ACL scrapped those ideas. 

    The Thunder's roster is filled with talented young players, all capable of improving. But how much better can Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden really get? They're already elite players.

    As for Maynor, he can become the Thunder's most improved player because he can go from basically a year off to becoming their backup point guard.

    Maynor is still young, which will be a pain for older teams when they hope to rest up while Westbrook is on the bench. 

Portland Trail Blazers: Nicolas Batum

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    Age: 23

    College: N/A

    Position: Small forward

    The Portland Trail Blazers matched the Minnesota Timberwolves' offer to Nicolas Batum because they feel he's a special player. Now it's time for Batum to prove them right. 

    Batum has been a good player throughout his four years in Portland, but he's always been more of a role player than a feature player. Now that Batum has a $45 million contract, he will be expected to step his game up. 

    LaMarcus Aldridge is already considered a star player. Batum is the player on the 2012-13 Blazers that will step up and take his game to the next level.

    He has to or the Blazers will be in for a long season. 

Utah Jazz: Derrick Favors

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    Age: 21

    College: Georgia Tech

    Position: Forward/center

    The Utah Jazz are in a place of luxury with their low-post players. Enes Kanter, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors make up one of the deepest low posts in the NBA.

    Jefferson and Millsap are already great players. Favors has the potential to be better than all of them.

    Favors played well at the end the 2011-12 season, so there's reason to believe he'll continue that play heading into the upcoming season.

    If Favors can play as well as the Jazz hope he can, then that would make Millsap expendable. Millsap is a strong trade chip, and he could bring back a collection of talented players to the Jazz. 

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