NBA Predictions Week 9: Unheralded Stars Sure to Shine Brightest This Week

Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistDecember 24, 2012

December 1, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA;   Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) takes the court before the game against the Sacramento Kings at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

With nearly a third of the 2012-13 NBA season in the books, it would ostensibly be harder than ever to find breakout stars ready to captivate hardcore basketball fans.

However, as guys like Jeremy Lin have proved over the years, there is never a right time for a specific player to emerge. It just happens. Injuries, individual matchups and even suspensions have all cropped up in the past week, giving some players opportunities they wouldn't have otherwise had.

Whether they actually take advantage and have fantastic performances is up to them. But by taking a look at a few key situations around the league, it's become pretty easy to identify a few rising stars who should shine this week. 

With that in mind, let's take a look at a few unheralded players sure to come through with a great seven days for their team. 


DeAndre Jordan (C, Los Angeles Clippers)

Week 9 Matchups: vs. Denver Nuggets, vs. Boston Celtics, at Utah Jazz, vs. Utah Jazz

Lost in the heaping praise (deservedly) thrown upon Chris Paul and Blake Griffin for the Clippers' torrid start has been DeAndre Jordan taking a bit of a leap. Heading into this week's play, he's averaging a career-high 9.3 points to go along with seven boards and nearly two blocks per night.

Granted, he's shooting 41.2 percent from the free-throw line, so it isn't all roses. Nevertheless, Jordan has been absolutely fantastic in the middle for the Clips and deserves recognition for his ascent.

That uptick in play should be extremely evident this week. All of the Clippers' three opponents (in four games) have massive deficiencies in the middle of the defense that should be exploitable by the team's inside-out game.

Two of Denver's three most-used five-man units have given up over 1.14 points per possession, which is higher than the 1.09 rate of the league-worst Bobcats. Those bad units are shockingly enough ones without Kosta Koufos, where either JaVale McGee or Kenneth Faried is playing center. In fact, the two five-man units with Faried at the center spot average out to about 1.21 points per possession. 

The Celtics, meanwhile, have well-documented problems in the middle. They are averaging the least amount of rebounds per game (38.5) and just got torched by Milwaukee's Larry Sanders last Friday. 

As for Utah, the team ranks 24th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, thanks mostly to the Paul Millsap-Al Jefferson combo. The Jazz allow significantly fewer points per 48 minutes when they're off the floor, and both actually offer a negative net value on the season.

In short, the matchups should dictate a massive week from Jordan.


Marco Belinelli (SG, Chicago Bulls)

Week 9 Matchups: vs. Houston Rockets, at Indiana Pacers, vs. Washington Wizards

When Richard Hamilton went down with a torn plantar fascia, many in the Windy City were white-knuckled about the team's guard play. Already struggling without Derrick Rose, Hamilton's injury was ostensibly going to make the team rely heavily on Nate Robinson, Jimmy Butler or Marco Belinelli.

At the time, none of those options seemed exactly ideal.

However, since Hamilton's injury, Belinelli has been quietly fantastic. The 26-year-old Italian is averaging 15.4 points since entering the starting lineup, and though he's hitting just 42.6 percent of his shots, Belinelli is making that up by knocking down over 40 percent from beyond the arc.

With his matchups this week, the emerging guard should have plenty of opportunities for open looks. 

Houston heads into this week's action as both one of the more exciting teams to watch offensively and one of the most cringe-worthy units defensively. The NBA's leader in pace, the Rockets lead the NBA in points per game (105.4) and are second-worst in points allowed (103.4). For Belinelli's sake, neither James Harden nor Jeremy Lin is exactly known a stalwart defensively. 

The matchup against Indiana isn't so hot considering the team leads the league in defensive efficiency. Still, Belinelli's matchup (Lance Stephenson) isn't exactly striking fear into anyone's hearts.

Washington, on the other hand, has been a pretty good matchup for anyone, and Jordan Crawford may be one of the five most disinterested defensive players in the league.

His matchups plus his recent play should equal Belinelli being a must-add in nearly all fantasy formats. 


Nikola Vucevic (C, Orlando Magic)

Week 9 Matchups: vs. New Orleans Hornets, at Washington Wizards, vs. Toronto Raptors

You can probably throw Vucevic on this list for the duration of Glen Davis' injury. In actuality, the Magic center was already having an emergent season before Davis' injury.

Heading into this week's action, Vucevic is averaging 10.4 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game and has essentially become the cornerstone piece of the Dwight Howard trade for the Magic.

In the two-game sample size without Davis in the lineup, though, Vucevic has ascended to even greater heights. The second-year player averaged 16 points and 14 rebounds over his past two contests, helping pick up the slack for an offense that will sorely miss Davis' 15 shots per night.

Those offensive opportunities should be plentiful in this week's slate of games. Though Anthony Davis has the reputation as a defensive game-changer, that hasn't been the case when he's on the floor this season, and his Hornets rank 29th in defensive efficiency. In fact, New Orleans has actually been way better defensively with Davis off the floor.

Meanwhile, the advantages of playing Washington and Toronto don't exactly need spelling out. Emeka Okafor hasn't had the impact the Wizards expected on the interior, and it's shown in the team's record. And if you substitute Jonas Valanciunas for Okafor, the exact same sentence can be written for the Raptors.

Vucevic isn't exactly an interior banger himself, but should have a great seven days offensively and should be fantastic in the coming weeks as well. 


Jason Thompson (PF, Sacramento Kings)

Week 9 Matchups: at Portland Trail Blazers, vs. New York Knicks, vs. Boston Celtics

I mean, someone has to help pick up the interior slack with DeMarcus Cousins suspended, right? Of the Kings' rotation, Thompson is certainly the most capable big on the roster and one who has the largest history of NBA production.

In Cousins' first absence, Thompson had only 10 points and six rebounds, but that came in a mere 21 minutes. There won't be many nights where Thompson plays that few minutes with Cousins out and his production definitely should rise with an increase in playing time.

Granted, we're not sure how long "indefinitely" will last. Cousins could be back as soon as Wednesday or could be deactivated long enough for Sacramento to make a trade. We really don't know.

Nevertheless, the points and rebounds have to go somewhere. And call me crazy, but I don't think they're going to James Johnson.

Minus the Knicks, Sacramento's matchups are pretty good this week as well. Portland is tied for 22nd in defensive efficiency, and the Celtics' interior deficiencies have already been noted earlier in this space. 

Thompson is by no means a potential breakout star, but he's someone who could score 15 points and grab eight rebounds a night with Cousins out.