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NBA: 10 Hidden Gems Who Will Be Discovered in 2012-13

Maxwell OgdenCorrespondent IIISeptember 3, 2016

NBA: 10 Hidden Gems Who Will Be Discovered in 2012-13

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    To the naked eye, an NBA player is defined by one of two categorizations. One could either be a star that leads their franchise or a role player who helps the more talented assets thrive.

    As we take a closer look into the NBA's spectrum of greatness, we see that such an assumption does not always hold truth. From time to time, those role players are stars in their own right, who simply lack the opportunity.

    For the following 10 players, the chance to shine has finally arrived.

    Despite falling under the radar or, for some, off of the grid, these players embody what it means to work your way from the bottom up. Despite their supreme abilities and unparalleled desire for greatness, there has always been an abeyance of their star realization.

    These are the stars of tomorrow who have been lost in the times of today.

    They are the hidden gems of the NBA.

Gustavo Ayon, Orlando Magic

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    Position: Power Forward/Center

    Age: 27

    Experience: 1 Season

     

    Gustavo Ayon has come a long way to reach the NBA.

    After attending college in Mexico, Ayon signed on to play at San Jose State but never received playing time. He then returned to Mexico and spent the past six years playing professional basketball in his native country.

    With one year of NBA experience under his belt, Ayon proved that he could perform at the NBA level. So much so that the Orlando Magic traded Most Improved Player of the Year Ryan Anderson to the New Orleans Hornets in order to acquire him (via Yahoo! Sports).

    As for why, just evaluate his first year in the league.

    Ayon finished with a Player Efficiency Rating of 16.71, which ranked in the Top 20 at his position. He also averaged 1.0 steals and 0.9 blocks in just 20.1 minutes per game, which speaks to his tenacity and effort on defense.

    Ayon is your traditional foreign big man in the sense that he is fundamentally polished.

    He moves well without the basketball, positions himself well on offense and finishes around the basket with efficiency.

    Although he lacks a mid-range game and could improve with his back to the basket, Ayon is excellent on the offensive glass. This enables the big man to create second chance opportunities for himself and others, which is why Hornets head coach Monty Williams offered him such an opportunity.

    In Orlando, expect Ayon to be the recipient of some well-deserved recognition. His second year in the league should breed greater opportunities and a more defined feel for the game.

    In turn, Gustavo Ayon will no longer be hidden from the NBA.

     

    2011-12 Season Averages

    16.71 PER, 20.1 MPG, 5.9 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.9 BPG

Dante Cunningham, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Position: Power Forward

    Age: 25

    Experience: 3 Seasons

     

    Dante Cunningham has spent his first three years in the league behind the frontcourt tandem of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. In turn, it isn't too difficult to understand why he failed to receive a great deal of playing time.

    With the arrival of Marreese Speights, the minutes became all the more difficult to come by.

    With a move to Minnesota, however, it appears as if Cunningham has finally found the opportunity he has been waiting for. Although Kevin Love will command roughly 35 minutes a night, the Timberwolves have been in need of frontcourt depth for quite some time.

    Due to his nonstop motor, infectious energy and defensive tenacity, it is safe to say that Dante Cunningham has found the perfect fit for a breakout season.

    Cunningham's contributions often do not show up on a stat sheet, though.

    He's an outstanding pick-and-roll defender due to his mobility and athleticism. He is more than capable of taking on a 3 on the perimeter and is equally as anxious to lock someone down in the post.

    On offense, Cunningham has a smooth stroke from mid-range. Although he doesn't receive many opportunities to flash this ability, the former Villanova Wildcat is more than capable of knocking down a J and expanding the floor.

    He's also a much-improved rebounder who will attack the offensive glass and put back some extraordinary dunks. With Kevin Love coming off of a season with injuries, expect Cunningham's  opportunities to prove such to be at a new high.

    Big things are in store for Dante Cunningham.

     

    2011-12 Season Averages

    14.94 PER, 17.6 MPG, 5.2 PPG, 3.8 RPG

Xavier Henry, New Orleans Hornets

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    Position: Shooting Guard

    Age: 21

    Experience: 2 Seasons

     

    Xavier Henry was selected with the 12 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.

    After spending his freshman season at Kansas as a high-quality role player, Henry decided that it was time for him to explore the NBA world and prove his worth.

    Unfortunately, he just wasn't ready for what was coming his way. As a result, Xavier Henry's growth was stunted significantly.

    With that being said, Henry is still only 21 years old and is entering training camp in the best shape of his life. He's a 6'6" wing player with a 6'11" wingspan and an NBA-ready frame.

    In terms of his physical stature, he is more than prepared to contribute.

    On the offensive side of the ball, Henry is one of the most gifted young players in the game. His upper body strength makes him a matchup nightmare for virtually all opponents, which he hasn't yet exploited.

    With Monty Williams as his head coach, however, you can almost guarantee that Henry will take advantage of the mismatch he holds over virtually all opponents.

    What has been most puzzling about Henry thus far is how poorly he has fared shooting the basketball. He has an excellent stroke and is lethal from virtually everywhere on the floor.

    He has no limits from beyond the arc and is an extraordinary finisher around the basket. With Eric Gordon's trend of facing injury and uncertainty at small forward, expect Henry to find his way onto the court quite often in 2012-13.

    He'll be a fantasy sleeper and emerge as the Goran Dragic of the group. In other words, Henry will perform at a solid, but not elite, level and garner plenty of attention come free agency.

     

    2011-12 Season Averages

    9.24 PER, 16.9 MPG, 5.3 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 41.2% 3PT

James Johnson, Sacramento Kings

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    Position: Small Forward

    Age: 25

    Experience: 3 Seasons

     

    During his time with the Toronto Raptors, James Johnson displayed great versatility but an inability to thrive in any individual area. He was often considered to be a reckless player whose effort and energy often overwhelm his technique.

    In turn, he was caught gambling on defense and selecting poor shots on offense. As a result, he fell into virtual obscurity.

    The truth of the matter is, Johnson became a defensive terror in 2011-12. Although he had his inconsistencies, Johnson finished the year as one of five qualified players to average at least 1.0 block and 1.0 steal simultaneously.

    A statistic that speaks to what he is capable of as a player.

    The former Wake Forest Demon Deacon is long, athletic and agile. He is just as dangerous in the passing lanes as he is swatting a slashing ball handler's scoring attempt, which makes him the perfect fit in Sacramento.

    With all due respect to their current group of players, Marcus Thornton and Tyreke Evans don't exactly strike fear into perimeter opponents when we speak of defense.

    As the season rolls around, many expect the Sixth Man duties to be handed to either Aaron Brooks or Isaiah Thomas, depending on who doesn't start.

    Johnson, however, will take over that role and thrive in it.

    He will become a Sixth Man of the Year candidate and finally receive the recognition his phenomenal physical abilities deserve.

     

    2011-12 Season Averages

    14.54 PER, 25.2 MPG, 9.1 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.4 BPG, 1.1 SPG

Courtney Lee, Boston Celtics

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    Position: Shooting Guard

    Age: 27

    Experience: 4 Seasons

     

    The hype has already begun to build surrounding Courtney Lee and he hasn't even played a regular season game with the Boston Celtics. Prior to signing with the Celtics, however, Lee was just another swingman stuck in Houston.

    So let's not fool ourselves and act as if the general population had payed attention before. They hadn't, and now they will be pleasantly surprised.

    Lee began his journey at Western Kentucky. He won the 2008 Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year award and went on to be selected with the 22nd-overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft. The Orlando Magic had found their man and gave him 25.2 minutes per game as a rookie.

    Unfortunately, Lee missed a game-winning layup attempt during Game 2 of the 2009 NBA Finals.

    Less than two weeks later, he was traded to the New Jersey Nets.

    From there, Lee's shooting percentages dipped and his reputation followed. One year later, he was traded again to the Houston Rockets. He proceeded to start 27 games in 139 appearances, thus confirming his status as hidden from the NBA.

    Who would have thought that a move to the deepest perimeter depth chart in the NBA would reignite his star?

    In Boston, expect Lee to thrive as the team's go-to perimeter defender. He has the size to handle the shooting guard or small forward positions, with the athleticism and strength to be able to take those players in the post.

    He's also a career 38.6 percent shooter from beyond the arc, so expect Rajon Rondo to find him for a few open treys along the way.

    Courtney Lee is going to break out, it's just a matter of when he gets that chance.

     

    2011-12 Season Averages

    12.61 PER, 11.4 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.2 SPG, 40.1% 3PT

Wesley Matthews, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Position: Shooting Guard

    Age: 25

    Experience: 3 Seasons

     

    Wesley Matthews is a relatively recognizable name who has built a decent reputation around the league. To the casual fan, he's either considered to be a role player on a bad team or some guy they remember from Marquette.

    Little do they know, Matthews is one of the most well-rounded players in the NBA.

    As soon as he gets a point guard who can facilitate an offense, we'll see the 25-year-old flirt with 20 point per game numbers and lock down any opponent he's tasked with defending.

    Oh, would you look at that! Damian Lillard has arrived.

    When the Portland Trail Blazers selected Lillard with the sixth-overall pick in this past June's NBA Draft, many spoke of how LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum would benefit. The truth of the matter is, no player will thrive more with a resurgence at point guard than Wesley Matthews.

    The proof is in the past.

    During the final month of the 2011-12 regular season, point guard Raymond Felton finally discovered his groove. In turn, Matthews posted an average of 17.6 points per game on 41.1 percent shooting from distance.

    Suddenly, local Portland fans had discovered a hidden truth: Wesley Matthews, not Nicholas Batum, is the star waiting to shine.

    In 2012-13, the entire NBA will learn said truth.

     

    2011-12 Season Averages

    14.12 PER, 13.7 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.5 SPG, 38.3% 3PT

Nikola Pekovic, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Position: Center

    Age: 26

    Experience: 2 Seasons

     

    When you're the center that plays next to Kevin Love, there is a great chance that you won't garner the recognition you deserve. As is life for Nikola Pekovic, who remains a player with more of a cult following than that of a league-wide fan base.

    In 2012-13, expect that to change.

    Pekovic is one of the most physically dominant big men in the NBA. He's a brutal low-post player who is not afraid to put his shoulder down and push through opposing defenders.

    Once around the basket, expect him to finish.

    He made 61.2 percent of his shot attempts when close to the basket.

    Pekovic is also a better rebounder than his mediocre average of 7.4 boards per game would suggest. Unfortunately, the big man from Montenegro is playing alongside rebounding machine Kevin Love.

    Like it or not, that takes a few balls out of Pek's hands each night.

    As the 2012-13 season approaches and Pekovic faces a clean bill of health, expect Rick Adelman to up his minutes to roughly 30 a night. Although reserve Greg Stiemsma is likely to command playing time due to his defensive prowess, Pekovic has developed a potentially elite chemistry with Love in the frontcourt.

    Fans will be well-aware of this fact when they witness Pekovic tear up their beloved franchise for 15 and 10 per contest.

     

    2011-12 Season Averages

    21.47 PER, 26.9 MPG, 13.9 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 56.4% FG

Anthony Randolph, Denver Nuggets

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    Position: Power Forward

    Age: 23

    Experience: 4 Seasons

     

    For four grueling seasons, Anthony Randolph has withstood the inconsistencies of a coach's decision-making. For every game in which Randolph would shine, the next day he would find the floor for less than 10 minutes.

    That was the same with the Golden State Warriors, New York Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves. The same under Don Nelson, Mike D'Antoni, Kurt Rambis and Rick Adelman.

    In 2011-12, however, Randolph finally adjusted.

    Despite facing the same inconsistency in minutes, Randolph finally developed a relatively consistent form of play. His Player Efficiency Rating sat at a career-best 17.60, which was a sign of how far he has come from a mental standpoint.

    Now 23, Randolph has made the move to Denver. If the Oklahoma City Thunder are the best at drafting the hidden gems, then it should be known that George Karl and the Nuggets are at the top of developing those players.

    JaVale McGee's tale of two half-seasons should be evidence enough.

    When the Nuggets acquired Randolph, it was unclear what his role would be. Although he fits the young and athletic dynamic of the Nuggets' roster, there was uncertainty as to how he'd fit into the rotation with Al Harrington on the roster.

    The Nuggets made quick work of that concern when they included Harrington in their trade for Andre Iguodala.

    This opens the door for Randolph to be the number one rotational big man coming off of the bench. He'll receive the opportunities he deserves due to his size and ability to run the floor, which should make him a favorite of both Ty Lawson and Andre Miller.

    His numbers will improve across the board, the Denver Nuggets will make the postseason and Anthony Randolph will finally garner the recognition he deserves.

     

    2011-12 Season Averages

    17.60 PER, 15.2 MPG, 7.4 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 1.0 BPG

Kevin Seraphin, Washington Wizards

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    Position: Power Forward/Center

    Age: 22

    Experience: 2 Seasons

     

    Kevin Seraphin of the Washington Wizards does not have the most impressive stat line. The reason for this, however, is because of how long it took to finally receive the opportunity that he had been waiting for.

    And when he got in there, he was outstanding.

    During the final month of the 2011-12 NBA season, Seraphin averaged 15.5 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks on 52.7 percent shooting from the floor. He posted three double-doubles and shot an impressive 71.4 percent from the free-throw line.

    Being able to knock down a few from the charity stripe certainly makes a big man a more difficult assignment.

    What was truly marvelous about Seraphin's breakthrough month was how well the team rallied around him. The Wizards won eight of their final 10 games, with Seraphin serving as the motivator via his outstanding play when it mattered.

    After suffering two demoralizing losses, Seraphin put up 21 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks at the Chicago Bulls. This performance sparked a six-game winning streak that now has the Wizards labeled as one of the teams to watch in 2012-13.

    Although Nene and Emeka Okafor will be the starters, expect Seraphin to see consistent playing time and produce accordingly.

    A full breakout season is in the works.

     

    2011-12 Season Averages

    15.83 PER, 20.6 MPG, 7.9 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.3 BPG

Marcus Thornton, Sacramento Kings

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    Position: Shooting Guard

    Age: 25

    Experience: 3 Seasons

     

    Do avid NBA fans know who Marcus Thornton is? Sure.

    Does the general population show him the appreciation that he deserves as a near 20 point per game scorer? Absolutely not.

    Thornton is one of the game's hidden gems due to the fact that he can score as well as any shooting guard in the league. Despite playing for an offense that lacked any direction or consistency at point guard, Thornton managed to average 18.4 points per game in 2011-12.

    Yet he goes unnoticed.

    He posted 26 games with at least 20 points and emerged as the best perimeter scorer on the roster. A role that the Kings did all they could to allow Tyreke Evans to fill, despite Thornton's success.

    As 2012-13 rolls around, expect Thornton to maintain this pace and become one of the more prominent faces in the game. He and DeMarcus Cousins developed quite the rapport last season, which suggests that both will reach the 20 point per game plateau.

    If that is to occur, the Sacramento Kings will be one of the surprise teams in the NBA.

    Marcus Thornton will also be discovered on a national landscape.

    And it is about time that happens.

     

    2011-12 Season Averages

    17.43 PER, 18.4 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.4 SPG

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