The Player Each NBA Team Must See Improve During the 2012-13 Season
It's a new season, and there are many teams eager and ready to start anew. Most of these teams are putting their faith in certain players to improve upon their previous seasons.
Not all of these players are in the beginning of their careers, however.
Some teams are asking for veterans to improve after undergoing disappointing seasons in 2011-12.
Improvement from players can sometimes mean the difference between a playoff berth and a missed opportunity for fringe teams, while good teams can become great teams with just a small refinement.
This season will be no different.
Atlanta Hawks: DeShawn Stevenson
Sure, DeShawn Stevenson is known as being a defensive specialist. That was a role he filled quite well last season for the then-New Jersey Nets.
His offensive production was atrocious, however, and the Atlanta Hawks are hoping that he can at least improve marginally in 2012-13.
He shot just 29 percent from the floor, averaging a mere 2.9 points in 18.8 minutes per game. He also hit just 56 percent of his free throws, a far drop from his career mark of 70 percent.
Defense will come first again this season, but he needs to improve upon his shooting percentages from the field and the charity stripe.
Boston Celtics: Courtney Lee
Courtney Lee played very well last season for the Houston Rockets, averaging 11.4 points in 30.3 minutes per game and shooting an incredible 40 percent from three.
The Boston Celtics will be expecting him to improve this season, however, as he's going to play an important part in their aging offense.
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will still get their looks, but Lee represents a younger, faster option for point guard Rajon Rondo.
Lee's progress this season could be the difference between Boston being a top team in the East and a middle-of-the-road playoff team.
Brooklyn Nets: Brook Lopez
Brook Lopez has always been capable of putting the ball in the basket, as his career 17.4 points per game and his 50 percent career field goal percentage represent.
The Brooklyn Nets are relying on Lopez to improve this season, but not on the offensive side of the court.
For a seven-footer, Lopez is not the type of rebounder one would expect. He has averaged just 7.4 rebounds per game in his career, and he is easily outmatched by smaller, quicker centers.
This will have to change in 2012-13, as the Nets need him to be a presence in the paint on both sides of the court.
Charlotte Bobcats: Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker may have had a nice rookie season, but his shooting percentage of 37 was atrocious. I guess that pretty much exemplified the Charlotte Bobcats' season.
Walker will likely be one of the main aspects of the offensive attack in Charlotte this season, so the Bobcats will need him to improve his shooting percentage.
If he can get his percentage up to about 45 percent, that could represent a few more wins for his team. For a team that only won seven games in 2011-12, a few more wins is a huge improvement.
Chicago Bulls: Kirk Hinrich
Kirk Hinrich is back in Chicago this season after a two-year hiatus, and he'll play a very important role on the club.
With Derrick Rose out, Hinrich will be asked to orchestrate an offense that has a ton of potential.
Hinrich himself will need to score more than he has in the past several seasons, and he'll also have to look inside for a few more assists.
When Rose returns, Hinrich's role will be greatly diminished. Until then, he'll have to play above and beyond how he has in the past.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Alonzo Gee
Alonzo Gee played a big role with the Cleveland Cavaliers last season, bigger than he had in his entire career.
He played very well, dropping 10.6 points per game on 41 percent shooting.
On a young team with not much veteran leadership, Gee will have to continue to improve. Kyrie Irving is the focus on offense, but Gee represents a very viable second or third option.
The Cavaliers could surprise this season, but that may not happen if Gee doesn't improve.
Dallas Mavericks: O.J. Mayo
O.J. Mayo was stellar in his first two seasons in the NBA with the Memphis Grizzlies. He scored at will, shot a high percentage from the floor, shot well from the free throw line and even rebounded well.
He has since digressed.
His shooting is down, his scoring is down and his overall effectiveness on the court is down.
The Dallas Mavericks are without many solid options after Dirk Nowitzki, so improvement from Mayo is essential for any 2012-13 success.
Denver Nuggets: Kosta Koufos
Kosta Koufos is now the starting center for the Denver Nuggets. He'll have to perform like one if he wants to keep his job and, more importantly, if he wants the Nuggets to climb the ranks of the Western Conference.
He brought down 5.4 rebounds per game last season, and he'll have to improve to close to double digits this season.
Any points he gives the Nuggets will be a bonus, but they would love if he could continue shooting at the 60 percent rate he put up last season.
Detroit Pistons: Brandon Knight
The Detroit Pistons are a very underrated team, and Brandon Knight is a very underrated young point guard.
He does occasionally look to score before he passes, though, and the Pistons hope that he continues his transition to a traditional point guard.
If he minimizes turnovers, improves his shooting percentage and dishes a few more assists, the Pistons could make a run at the eighth seed.
Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry
Stephen Curry has excelled in all facets of the game since he came into the league, but the Golden State Warriors should be looking for more this season.
He is the unquestioned leader and talent on the team. The Warriors need him to show that and establish himself as a superstar in this league.
The Warriors may not be expected to do all that much this season, but they can make a huge step in the right direction as a team if Curry can improve even further.
Houston Rockets: Jeremy Lin
Jeremy Lin played well last season with the New York Knicks, and his feel-good story does not need to be documented in this slideshow.
We all know the numbers he put up.
The contract he was given by the Houston Rockets raised some eyebrows, so they need Lin to improve just for the sole purpose of saving face.
If he digresses at all, or plays like he did towards the end of the season, the Rockets will be kicking themselves for the duration of his contract.
Indiana Pacers: George Hill
George Hill is now a starter for the Indiana Pacers, and he'll have to keep improving if he wishes to keep that role.
He shoots a high percentage from nearly everywhere on the court, but he'll have to play a bigger role as a distributor.
He did in the Pacers' first game, racking up seven assists. That's the type of production they need from their starting point guard.
Los Angeles Clippers: DeAndre Jordan
DeAndre Jordan started each game he appeared in last season and played quite well.
He shot 63 percent from the floor, which resulted in 7.4 points per game. He also pulled down 8.3 rebounds.
Blake Griffin commanded most of the attention in the paint, so Jordan represented a perfect compliment to the young high-flier.
If Jordan improves even more, the Clippers will have one of the most dynamic frontcourts in the NBA.
Los Angeles Lakers: Devin Ebanks
This is Devin Ebanks' third season in the NBA, and he has played in just 20 and 24 games, respectively.
Even if he doesn't make much of an impact on offense or defense, the Los Angeles Lakers need him to stay healthy and on the court.
That alone will represent a huge improvement for Ebanks.
Of course, he would like to continue to improve as a player. That would be a big boost for the Lakers, as the starting five can't be relied upon to do all the scoring.
Memphis Grizzlies: Mike Conley Jr.
Mike Conley Jr.'s production actually decreased ever so slightly for the Memphis Grizzlies last season. His points per game dropped and his shooting percentage dropped, albeit not by much.
He missed a couple of games last season, though that probably didn't have much of an effect on his overall play.
The Grizzlies are one of the better teams in the Western Conference, but they could establish themselves as a top-tier team with improved play from a few of their guys.
Conley Jr. is one such player.
Miami Heat: Mario Chalmers
The defending NBA champs really have very few aspects of the game in which they need to improve, though point guard play is one area that needs a little work.
Mario Chalmers simply needs to manage the offense, even though either LeBron James or Dwayne Wade often bring the ball up the court.
Chalmers averaged just 3.5 assists per game last season, and he should look to pass even more this season with weapons like James, Wade and Chris Bosh at his disposal.
Milwaukee Bucks: Ersan Ilyasova
The Milwaukee Bucks have a dynamic backcourt in Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. To take a step to the next level, they'll need improved play from the frontcourt.
That's where Ersan Ilyasova comes into play.
Ilyasova is a power forward with decent touch from long range, evidenced by his 46 percent shooting from beyond the arc last season.
Even though that number is superb, Ilyasova needs to become an even more complete player this season. As a power forward, he'll have to continue to improve on his post game.
He has a lot of potential, and his growth as a player will be integral to the Bucks' success.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Ricky Rubio
Ricky Rubio missed the end of last season due to injury, and the Minnesota Timberwolves declined without him in the lineup.
His passing skills rival the likes of Jason Kidd and Steve Nash, while his quickness and ability to score near the basket make him a very complete point guard.
Aside from getting healthy, the Timberwolves need him to be even better this season.
Kevin Love can't carry the load himself. He'll need even better play from the sophomore point guard in 2012-13.
New Orleans Hornets: Greivis Vasquez
By no means is Greivis Vasquez an offensive threat, so the New Orleans Hornets will need him to play the stereotypical point guard's role in 2012-13.
He did just that in the team's first game, dishing out a league-high 13 assists.
The Hornets are a very young team with a ton of potential, and Vasquez has the ability to orchestrate potentially one of the more dynamic offenses in the league.
Rookies Austin Rivers and Anthony Davis will continue to look towards him for looks on the perimeter and in the paint.
New York Knicks: Iman Shumpert
Iman Shumpert plays lock-down perimeter defense, and the New York Knicks will continue to utilize him in the same role this season.
He didn't provide much offense, though, and the Knicks will need him to improve there. With Amar'e Stoudemire's injury that will hold him out for six to eight weeks, Shumpert needs to step up.
Shumpert may be out with an ACL injury right now, but reports have surfaced that he could return in December. Should that be the case, Stoudemire will likely still be out for a few more weeks.
If Shumpert can improve on offense—he wasn't even that bad last season—he can establish himself as a quality starting shooting guard in the NBA.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Thabo Sefolosha
Thabo Sefolosha started on the Oklahoma City Thunder, though James Harden played a much larger role off the bench.
With his departure, Kevin Martin will play a similar role in his place.
That being said, Martin will not have the impact of Harden. This will lead to Sefolosha's minutes being that much more valuable.
He plays strong defense—that's something that really doesn't need much improvement. If he plays a little better offensively, he can become a solid fourth option for a deep Thunder offense.
Orlando Magic: Glen Davis
Dwight Howard is gone, and Glen Davis now has a much bigger role in the paint for the Orlando Magic.
Nikola Vucevic will be playing the center position, but Davis will be asked to improve on the glass and offensively.
Last season, he averaged 5.4 rebounds and 9.3 points per game.
The Magic aren't expected to do all that much this season, but Davis can help to make their season much less painful than it appears to be.
Philadelphia 76ers: Spencer Hawes
Spencer Hawes wasn't the most consistent player last season, though his overall numbers ended up being very respectable.
If he can work on consistency and continue to improve, he could become a part of one of the best frontcourts in the league.
Andrew Bynum will take a ton of pressure off of Hawes. This should open up some easy opportunities for him under the basket.
With Bynum in the fold, Hawes should improve.
Phoenix Suns: Michael Beasley
The Phoenix Suns are without a clear-cut No. 1 scoring option, and they are also without Steve Nash, the man who has been notorious for creating shots for even the most mediocre of players.
With this being the case, Michael Beasley will have to step up.
Coming out of college at Kansas State, Beasley had as much potential as any talent in the previous decade. He hasn't exactly performed at the same level since.
He still has the ability to create shots for himself, and that skill will prove useful to an offense that may lack leadership.
Portland Trail Blazers: J.J. Hickson
J.J. Hickson split time last season between the Sacramento Kings and Portland Trail Blazers, and he played exceptionally well in Portland.
In 19 games, he averaged 15.1 points per game and 8.3 rebounds.
With LaMarcus Aldridge next to him at the power forward position, there is not much pressure on Hickson to do his job.
This should help him in 2012-13, as he has the potential to continue to improve. He could possibly be a guy that goes for 18 points and 10 rebounds per game this season.
With that type of production, the Blazers could ride their front court to a playoff berth.
Sacramento Kings: Isaiah Thomas
Isaiah Thomas played well as a rookie last season in Sacramento, and the Kings expect him to continue making progress this season.
A young guard with his kind of talent could really make a big leap in his second season in the league.
Such a leap would say a lot about Thomas, as he already averaged 11.5 points and 4.1 assists per game as a rookie.
He averaged just 0.8 steals per game, though, and he'll have to make more of an impact on defense to make a complete improvement.
San Antonio Spurs: Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard has already started both games for the San Antonio Spurs this season, and it's clear that head coach Gregg Popovich prefers him to veteran Stephen Jackson.
With that type of trust in the NBA sophomore, the Spurs are clearly relying on Leonard to improve.
He is an extremely efficient scorer and rebounder. As the Spurs team continues to age, Leonard will be asked to increase his workload.
If he answers the call, the Spurs may have found themselves yet another option on offense.
Toronto Raptors: DeMar DeRozan
DeMar DeRozan is the No. 1 scoring option on the Toronto Raptors, and although he is still a pretty raw talent, the team issued him a big extension this past week.
That type of money warrants even more improvement from the young scorer. He averaged 17.2 points per game just two seasons ago, so what more can he do?
Well, for one, he can become more efficient offensively. His career shooting percentage is 46 percent, but he has also chucked up over 14 shots per game the past two seasons.
If he can eliminate some missed shots or become more selective offensively, he'll become an even more reliable option.
Utah Jazz: Gordon Hayward
The Utah Jazz were the eighth seed in the Western Conference last season, and improvement from their young shooting guard this season could push them into a possible sixth seed.
Gordon Hayward put up 11.8 points per game last season on 46 percent shooting. He is the primary scoring option in the Jazz backcourt, as Mo Williams is no longer a solid option on offense at this point in his career.
Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap comprise on the more dominant frontcourts in the game, but the backcourt in Utah needs to step it up to climb the ranks of the West.
If Hayward can improve, even slightly, the Jazz will be a better all-around club.
Washington Wizards: Kevin Seraphin
Olympian Kevin Seraphin will likely play second-fiddle to Emake Okafor at center early on this season for the Washington Wizards, though he has the potential to jump him on the depth chart.
Seraphin's downfall is that he is a relatively weak rebounder, averaging just 3.8 rebounds in 15.7 minutes over the course of his career.
He is very efficient on offense (51 percent career field goal percentage), so there shouldn't be much worry from the Wizards on that aspect of his game.
If he improves his rebounding, the Wizards may have found their next long-term center.