Whether injuries caused a player to have an underwhelming first half or they have opened up opportunities for others, there are many players out there who fit this mold. There are also those young players who continue to improve and are poised to make a name for themselves in the second half of the season.
Who will thrive after the All-Star break? Household names that are struggling? Lesser-known players waiting to jump into the spotlight? Let's take a look.
The Washington Wizards’ pitiful start to the season is clear proof as to how valuable John Wall is to that team. Before the outstanding young guard’s return, the Wizards started the season with 12 straight losses and ended up 5-28, but Wall’s presence has led to a 10-7 record since.
He came back from his knee injury with the same intensity and skill that we’re used to seeing in John Wall. As his fitness and minutes continue to improve, so does his production. In his first 11 games, Wall averaged 14.1 points and 6.5 assists on 26 minutes per game.
Since February, Washington has played six games, winning their last four, and Wall has been in the game for an average of 32.7 minutes. This increased playing time has given birth to 15.5 points, 8.5 assists and 1.2 steals per game and is making everyone around him better.
Wall is their facilitator and scoring threat, and as he gains familiarity with new pieces like Bradley Beal and the rest of the team maintains this newly found confidence, Wall will break out with an MVP-like second half of the season.
Ty Lawson is another talented point guard who is set to break out after the All-Star break with one difference: He leads a playoff team. The Denver Nuggets are an exciting group that plays extremely unselfish basketball. The team is second in the league in assists and third in offensive scoring. Not to mention their hard-working style of play makes them the top rebounding team in the NBA.
And their speedy little point guard deserves a great deal of credit.
The former Tarheel averages 15.7 points per game, which is second on the team behind Danilo Gallinari, and also racks up seven assists each night. Many of his assists can be attributed to newly acquired Andre Iguodala and rising star Kenneth Faried, and this unit is still improving.
At the close of 2012, the Nuggets were only 17-15 and Lawson was averaging 13.6 points and 6.9 assists per game. Since the start of the new year, he has put up 18.9 points and 7.2 assists per game.
Lawson is also infamous for turning it on in the second half. Last season, he increased in every offensive category after the break, and the year before that he averaged four more points and over three more assists after the All-Star break.
With point guard John Wall now available to dish him the ball, Bradley Beal has been stepping up. Washington lacked scoring options at the beginning of the season and the rookie did his best to fill the role. Beal’s offensive production has steadily increased each month as he continues to learn.
Now that he has some experience and a gifted point guard, Beal is taking higher quality shots, and it shows. The 6’3” shooting guard shot .341 in November and .368 in December. The new year has been a different story with Beal’s .453 shooting percentage yielding over 15 points per game, including a career-high 28 points in his last game against Milwaukee.
Look for Beal to continue to thrive as this young Wizards team continues to mature and learn how to play together. Who knows, when it’s all said and done, he might rival Portland's Damian Lillard for Rookie of the Year.
Like Beal, this rookie shooting guard is on a below-average team with an above-average point guard in Kyrie Irving. Dion Waiters’ great start somewhat fizzled out in the month of December, but he has been playing more consistently ever since. Waiters is a very solid player for the Cavaliers, but they are hoping he can be a serious scoring threat to give Irving some help.
With half of a season under his belt, Waiters has the potential to really break out. Shooting 50 percent in the month of February should hopefully give Irving more trust in the young player, but only time will tell. For now, Waiters’ 14 points a game is decent for a rookie, and I only expect that to improve.
Rajon Rondo’s out for the season, all hope is lost, right? It appears not. With Rondo and Jared Sullinger out for the rest of the year, it looked like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett would need a lot of help from role players like Jeff Green and Leandro Barbosa. And they got it.
And then Barbosa went down for the year with an ACL injury…
Now it is time for Jeff Green to step up. The forward out of Georgetown did not live up to expectations early in his career and then heart problems complicated things, but now he is healthy and ready to take over this team. Pierce and Garnett only have a few years left in them and cannot carry a team into the playoffs by themselves, so that’s where Green comes in.
In the Celtics' first game without Rondo, they pulled out a narrow victory against the Miami Heat which sparked a seven-game winning streak that finally culminated on Monday with a loss to the Bobcats. During these eight games without their All-Star point guard, Green has double-digit points in every game except one, and for half of those games he posted at least 17 points. The promising part is that he is doing this by shooting .539 from the field.
So far, Andrew Bogut’s numbers have not been impressive since returning from injury. This is due to rust, his limited minutes and Golden State’s poor quality of play as of late. The Warriors have dropped five straight, and Bogut hasn’t done much to stop that, but with more time to recover during the All-Star break, he should come back strong.
Steph Curry and Klay Thompson certainly aren’t afraid to shoot the ball and they do not miss much, but when they do, a player like Bogut will be there to rake in the boards and points. Once Bogut returns to full strength and finds his role within this young squad, look for him to be a very productive center in the West. Remember: this is his first year with Golden State, so he still has to learn Mark Jackson’s system and how to play with Curry and David Lee.