10 NBA Players Who Must Take the Next Step in 2013-14 Season

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterJuly 4, 2013

10 NBA Players Who Must Take the Next Step in 2013-14 Season

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    It usually takes young prospects two to three years before breaking through. Some show flashes but do not produce a steady stream of results early in their careers.

    Each of the following players are at a different stage of his development. Whether entering phase two or phase five of the developmental process, now is the time for that player to make the leap.

    I wouldn't call this a make-or-break season for these players, but for the sake of their teams and for them individually, these guys must take the next step as NBA players.

Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    With Cleveland drafting Anthony Bennett to join its frontcourt, this becomes a big year for Tristan Thompson, who'll be entering his third NBA season.

    Thompson put up similar numbers as a rookie and sophomore, doing a nice job of cleaning the glass and finishing inside. Offensively, he's shown a soft touch and strong instincts in the key.

    But most of his production comes off the creativity of others. In 2013-14, Thompson will have to implement some post moves or a mid-range jumper so as to become more of a threat with the ball in his hands.

    He takes 3.5 free throws a game and converts only 60 percent of them. Thompson will have to start making a bigger offensive impact if he wants to justify being taken No. 4 overall.

Iman Shumpert, New York Knicks

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    Iman Shumpert rejoined the Knicks a year after tearing his ACL and made an impact for them in the 2013 playoffs.

    Now entering his third year, the Knicks will need him to take that next step and emerge as a regular scorer. He's been tremendous defending the ball and injecting the team with passion and energy. But only once every few games does Shumpert makes his presence known offensively.

    Knocking down those spot-up and pull-up jumpers with a little more consistency should open up his driving lanes to the rack.

    We know what he's capable of in the open floor. Improving his half-court scoring repertoire would give New York a much-needed additional offensive weapon.

Derrick Williams, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Entering his third year in the league, Derrick Williams needs to start producing like the former No. 2 overall pick he is.

    Williams has struggled to find a position in Minnesota. The shots he was getting in college at Arizona have not been available in the NBA, as he lacks the size and low-post game to pick up easy buckets inside.

    As a small forward, he has trouble creating scoring opportunities for himself on the perimeter, and lacks the range to pose as a consistent three-point threat.

    But Williams still has the athleticism and talent to successfully make the transition. He just has to better channel his abilities and find his niche as a scorer.

    This next year will likely determine just how fat his second contract will be.

Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz

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    Derrick Favors should be salivating at the thought of playing in 2013-14, now that Al Jefferson isn't in Utah to hog all the minutes.

    According to ESPN's Marc Stein, Jefferson and his 17.8 points-per-game worth of touches are now headed to Charlotte. As a result, Favors' usage rate and scoring opportunities should increase dramatically next season.

    A strong finisher and defender inside, Favors has the size and athleticism to comfortably play on the NBA interior. But this is the year we want to see him go to work and become a focal point of Utah's half-court sets.

    Right now he's pretty much been a clean-up man and finisher. Utah will need him to become a scorer. He's been developing a post game for years and will now have the chance to consistently put it to use. 

    Every young pro athlete wishes for the opportunity that Favors is about to get. Let's see what he does with it.

Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers

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    It doesn't matter that Lance Stephenson was a second-round selection and not a lottery pick; he's now a key member of Indiana's rotation. And for the Pacers to have the best chance at emerging from the East, they'll need Stephenson to be on top of his game.

    He broke through during this year's playoffs, channeling his motor and athleticism not toward posting impressive individual numbers but toward helping his team win.

    Stephenson can be a relentless defender, vicious attacker and easy-bucket machine in transition. But maintaining that level of play while resisting the urge to score will be his biggest challenge moving forward.

    A strong year in Indiana could really boost his value on when he becomes a free agent.

DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers

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    DeAndre Jordan was supposed to take that next step in 2012-13, but he stumbled.

    It's pretty crazy to think that Jordan has already played five NBA seasons, all with the Los Angeles Clippers. It's also crazy to think that in each season he's shot a better percentage from the floor than he has from line.

    Jordan is still looking for his first double-digit scoring season. He remains a threat only as a finisher, whether it's off of lobs, dump-offs or missed shots. But Jordan needs to improve offensively from the high post and elbow. 

    And 38 percent from the stripe is simply a joke. If he can't be trusted to play late in games his value takes a serious hit.

    There's really no other way to put it—Jordan simply has to be better in 2013-14. He needs it, but the Clippers need it more.

Brandon Knight, Detroit Pistons

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    The Detroit Pistons passed on Trey Burke in the draft and opted to go with a 2-guard in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

    That must mean they're confident with Brandon Knight's ability to handle the ball and run the offense.

    But Knight's assist-to-turnover ratio in his two seasons in Detroit has been borderline unacceptable for a starting NBA point guard. The Pistons even acquired Jose Calderon last year and moved Knight off the ball, where he actually excelled in his natural role as a scorer.

    You can play both positions as a combo guard if you're able to consistently score in volume or balance it with playmaking. But Knight averaged just 13 points per game, shot 40 percent and owned an ugly 4-to-2.7 assist-to-turnover ratio.

    If he's not going to solidify himself as a point guard or shooting guard, he'll either have to improve his efficiency or produce bigger results.

    This is the year when Detroit decides whether Knight can be a starter in the team's long-term plans.

Michael Beasley, Phoenix Suns

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    Are we really approaching the point in which we have to consider Michael Beasley a bust?

    The former No. 2 overall pick behind Derrick Rose, Beasley has fallen directly between positions at the NBA level. He was a dominant interior force in college, where he averaged 26 points and 12.4 boards as a freshman at Kansas State.

    But in the pros, Beasley has been forced out to the perimeter where he's far less efficient.

    Already now on his third team, Beasley has been buried on the depth chart of a talent-deprived rotation.

    There's no doubt he's got natural ability. Nobody was questioning Beasley's skills entering the 2008 draft. Some even considered him worthy of the No. 1 overall selection.

    Beasley has to manage his inconsistency, immaturity and poor shot selection to help maximize his offensive potential. After scoring 19.2 a game in Minnesota in 2010-11, Beasley finished last season averaging 10.1 points on 40 percent shooting.

    He's entering a do-or-die year with regard to his reputation around the league.

Wesley Johnson, Free Agent

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    The former No. 3 overall pick has struggled to make an impact in Minnesota or Phoenix.

    Currently a free agent, Wesley Johnson is entering some dangerous territory. After three years in the league without producing, Johnson doesn't stand to be getting himself a very lucrative second contract after next season.

    In fact, this upcoming season could determine his future in the league.

    He's had trouble creating his own shots and making the ones he takes. He shot 40 percent from the floor this past season, inexplicably a career-high.

    One of the strengths noted on Johnson's scouting report when he came out of Syracuse in 2010 was his three-point shooting. But this ability just hasn't carried over from one level to the next.

    You'll be hard pressed to find a team looking for a stretch wing who can't shoot.

    Johnson will have to show a team that he can provide a service that's in demand. Right now, I'm not sure what that is.

Jeff Green, Boston Celtics

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    We saw it the second half of last year, but now is the time when the Celtics need Jeff Green to enter his prime.

    Green averaged 20.3 a game in Boston's first-round series with New York. That was without Rajon Rondo and with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. In 2013-14, he'll be with Rondo and will be the featured scorer now that Pierce and Garnett are in Brooklyn.

    The Celtics are in rebuilding mode and consider Green a part of their foundation. In order for the rebuilding process to work, they'll need him to stay productive and become a consistently reliable scorer.

    Over the past few months of the season, Green really learned how to exploit his versatility as a 6'9'' small forward. Like most wing players when they're shooting well, the rest of Green's game opened up. Green shot lights out from three-point range from February on.

    This is the year when Green has to put it all together as the go-to guy in Boston's lineup.