10 NBA Bench Players Ready for Starting Roles

Brett David RobertsCorrespondent ISeptember 29, 2012

10 NBA Bench Players Ready for Starting Roles

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    Every year we look forward to seeing which players will step up into starting roles and begin to develop as true starters in the NBA.  Most of the players in this slideshow fit that standard and are guys who are now going to have more responsibilities thrust upon themselves in full-time starting roles.

    That's part of the story.  The story within the story of these guys starting is to see how well they can address their deficiencies as players and develop into the kind of talents that their teams can rely on in the future. 

    Even veterans have things to work on, and all of these players will need to work on different aspects of their games to either retain their newly acquired starting roles or, in some cases, catapult themselves on the depth chart.

    Rebuilding teams seek to play guys with the highest potential but can only damage themselves so much in the short term.  This slideshow will look at a handful of younger players and a few veterans who must prove themselves ready to be full-time starters, either for the first time in their career, or again, in the case of a certain Bulls guard.

Kirk Hinrich: Chicago Bulls

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    Kirk Hinrich spent the first seven seasons of his career playing for Chicago, and now he's back to do so again.  He'll start while Derrick Rose rehabs from injury, and at age 31, Hinrich should have enough left in the tank to make Bulls GM John Paxson look pretty smart for signing the savvy vet.

    He's likely best suited as a shooting guard, but that won't be what the Bulls call upon Hinrich for.  He handles the ball well enough and is mobile enough defensively to fill in for Rose and keep the Bulls competitive. 

    Prior to last season, he had posted a PER of at least 11 for every year in his career, but last season showed signs his skills may have fallen off from the days in which he averaged over 16 points per game (2006-07).  

    Don't expect Hinrich to come back and put up the kind of numbers he did in his prime, because it's clear he's not that kind of player anymore.  But he should be able to best his last couple of seasons in Atlanta, where he never seemed to quite play his best ball.  

    He's not a premier shooter anyway, at just 41.7 percent from the floor over his career, but as a defender and floor general, Hinrich should be good enough to enable the Bulls to keep chugging until they get their MVP back.

Austin Daye: Detroit Pistons

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    The time is really now or never for Austin Daye.  

    For the last three seasons, we've been hearing that he's ready to take over for Tayshaun Prince, and yet it still hasn't happened.  Last season, he posted the worst PER of his career, by far, at 7.19.  It was nearly half what it was in the 2010-11 campaign when people thought Daye was primed for big things.

    He has a great basketball body and is a good athlete.  His defense is above average, but his rebounding is below average.  But most importantly of all:  Daye stopped making his shots, and the Pistons need shooters on the wings to complement the interior development of center Greg Monroe.  

    Daye shot an abysmal 32 percent from the floor last year, but as a rookie he was over 46 percent.  His true shooting percentage his first two seasons in the league was over 50 percent, and last year it was under 40.  Daye had the worst true shooting percentage at his position in the league last year and the second worst rebound rate.

    So why devote a slide to promoting his value as a starter?  Because he still has that potential, and we know what he did do early on—and what he is capable of.  The Pistons are going to give him every chance in the world to substantiate the fact he deserved to be selected 15th overall in 2009, but if he has a repeat performance of last year, he could find his way out of the league. 

Anthony Morrow: Atlanta Hawks

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    Anthony Morrow led the league in three-point percentage as a rookie, shooting 46.7 percent from behind the arc, while averaging 10.1 points per game for the Golden State Warriors.  

    His percentage has dropped every year since that point.  Last year, Morrow shot a career low 37.1 percent from three.

    Can Morrow get back on track in Atlanta with a starting role?  The Hawks are banking on it. 

    They got rid of Joe Johnson in a cap-clearing move, and it brought Morrow back as part of the package.  Morrow's value is as a shooter, and when you're shooting 37.1 percent in a career worst year, that says a lot. 

    Morrow may never be even an average defender, but he came into the league based upon his shooting ability, so he has to do well what he does best:  knock down open shots.   He has the fifth highest active three-point percentage (42.6), and he was eighth in effective field goal percentage in 2009-10.  

    Morrow must continue to work on his deficiencies, becoming a better rebounder and learning how to cover the bigger shooting guards in the league.  He's now 27 so he'll be entering his prime in these coming seasons. 

    If he can shoot as well as he did early in his career, Morrow will work his way into the discussion of the best shooters of all time.  His shot is that good.

Bismack Biyombo: Charlotte Bobcats

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    Bismack Biyombo managed to start 41 games last year for the Bobcats and enters this season as the undisputed starter.  Though Biyombo is a project player, the Bobcats found themselves in the "luxury" of being able to start the Congo big man since they were going nowhere fast last season.

    He has no competition at power forward.  Tyrus Thomas has firmed himself up as a huge bust, and Biyombo's promise exceeds his by leaps and bounds.  He averaged 9.1 rebounds per-36 last year and posted a PER of 10.66.  John Hollinger predicts an even higher PER this season, projecting an 11.85 (subscription required).  

    Biyombo's biggest value is as a shot blocker.  He swatted away 2.8 shots per-36 last season and had the fifth highest rating in blocks per-minute.  He will have to work this season on learning how to stay out of foul trouble. 

    Beyond that, he must develop a post game eventually, though the Bobcats will likely have a lot of patience since they have no chance of contending any time soon.

Kevin Seraphin: Washington Wizards

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    Kevin Seraphin is behind Emeka Okafor on the depth chart.  But it may not stay that way.  

    Seraphin is an athletically gifted 6'9", 275-pound big man, who at age 22 may represent a long-term answer for the Wizards at center.  He posted a PER of 15.83 last season, yet started only 21 games for Washington.

    His value can be seen not only in his high PER but also in his per-minute production.   Per-36, Seraphin posted 13.9 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, while shooting 53.1 percent from the floor.  Comparatively, starter Emeka Okafor posted 12.3 points per-36, 9.8 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks, while also posting a slightly lower PER of 15.16.

    Seraphin, 22, is younger than the now-30 Okafor and is only getting better.  He's a better shot blocker and looked great in the Olympics with France this summer, though he saw just 14.7 minutes per game off the bench for France as the team went 4-2.

    When he's younger and already slightly better than the incumbent, why not go ahead and promote him now?

Courtney Lee: Boston Celtics

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    Avery Bradley will be out till mid-December, and Doc Rivers named Courtney Lee the starter.  Lee has experience starting before in his career but came off the bench last year in Houston, starting only 26 of the 58 regular season games.  

    Lee is a deadly shooter and has shot over 40 percent from three in three of his four NBA seasons.  His value is found in his lockdown defense.  

    Lee also handles the ball well enough to fill some spot backup point guard duties, a task the Celtics will designate to their three shooting guards—Lee, the aforementioned Bradley and sixth man Jason Terry.  

    If Lee can play the type of defense he has over his career and continue to hit his threes, Doc Rivers will be more than happy with the Western Kentucky product.  Once Bradley returns, Lee will likely return to the second unit.  Boston's backcourt rotation will be among the best in the league.

Klay Thompson: Golden State Warriors

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    Klay Thompson started 29 of the 66 Warriors games last year and became the full-time starter once Monta Ellis was shipped off to Milwaukee for Andrew Bogut. 

    Thompson is a gifted shooter and is able to get his shots off against most NBA two-guards, as he has the length at 6'7" to rise over the smaller defenders.  He made 41.4 percent of his threes last year and hit 41.5 percent of his long twos.  

    Thompson will get the chance to start, but to take his game to the next level, he will have to improve his defense some.  He had the fifth highest foul rate at shooting guard last year, and a lot of that was just making poor rookie mistakes. 

    Coming out of Washington State, Thompson was billed as a guy who could come in and fill it up, but Thompson will have to do more than that to succeed at the highest level in the NBA—even on a team like the Warriors.

    Expect Thompson to post some pretty bold scoring numbers, probably in the 15-to-17 points-per-game range, but his defense will have to become more solid in order for him to start getting All-Star consideration years from now.

O.J. Mayo: Dallas Mavericks

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    There's a lot of reasons to be high on O.J. Mayo.  He seemingly peaked in his sophomore campaign, but his productivity only trailed off due to lack of playing time.  His points per-40 remained between 17.2 and 18.8 over the last four seasons, and if he continues to play like that, while seeing a lot more minutes in Dallas, Mark Cuban and the Mavs will look like geniuses.  

    In fact, it's really hard to even call it a breakout season when all he has to do is maintain his current level of play.  

    Mayo never did really develop as a player, but he didn't regress either, as many implicate.  The fact remains, he came out as a third overall draft pick, and a lot of that hype may have been premature. 

    Mayo was unable to learn how to play point guard, and other than his value as an above-average shooter, there aren't a lot of reasons to expect a true breakout season. 

    Just having the opportunity to play will make it seem to many as though he's broken out, anyway.  

Omer Asik: Houston Rockets

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    Omer Asik, like many others stepping into starting roles, needs only to keep up his solid play for a longer duration.  Last season per-36, Asik averaged 7.6 points, 13.0 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks.  That rebound rate ranks right up there with Dwight Howard (13.7) and Kevin Love (12.3).  

    He was 10th among centers in blocks per minute, and the Bulls gave up 7.6 points less per 100 possessions with Asik on the court.  He'll have to work on being less foul-prone, but after that, he has all the tools to be an elite defender.  Defense and rebounding are what Asik brings, and the going rate for skilled big men remains high in the NBA.

    Asik will have to work intensively on his post game, but the Rockets obviously feel he can make at least some improvement there to have spent $25 million on the Turkish big man.  Even if he never averages more than 11 points per game, the Rockets can get their money's worth on his defense and rebounding.

Derrick Favors: Utah Jazz

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    The Utah Jazz have been high on Favors for quite some time.  Since Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson are both free agents next summer, the time to see the Jazz favor Favors for the future is now. 

    Along with sophomore Enes Kanter, Favors should see a significant up-tick in minutes as the Jazz build towards the future and prepare to lose Millsap and/or Jefferson in free agency.

    Favors averaged just 8.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game in the regular season but saw a big increase in time in the four playoff games the Jazz lost. 

    During the playoffs, Favors saw nearly eight minutes more per game and nearly posted a double-double average, with 11.8 points and 9.5 rebounds per game in the playoffs.  

    Favors also blocked 1.5 shots per game in the sweep to the Spurs.  His Games 3 and 4 were the most impressive, as he posted 15.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and two blocks per game over the final two games of the series.

    It's important to remember Favors is still only 21 years old, as he came into the league at age 18.  

    His athleticism places him in the class of Kenneth Faried, DeAndre Jordan, JaVale McGee, and the like...

    As to whether Favors can elevate beyond that level and reach All-Star status, that depends on how his post moves and footwork develop.

    With Millsap likely becoming trade bait, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Jazz move Favors into a starting role at some point before February.  Both Jefferson and Millsap may be dealt, and it is Favors who could be the new face of the Jazz frontline, along with Kanter.