Last year we experienced major improvements from Larry Sanders, Paul George, Nikola Vucevic and so many other players. But, at the same time, a number of prominent players started to significantly decline.
That's not a phenomenon isolated to the 2012-13 NBA season.
Each and every year, some players rise, while others fall. It's a natural cycle in professional basketball, and the 2013-14 season won't be an exception to the rule.
So, who will be the biggest risers and fallers this year?
It's worth noting that players who have already broken out won't be included here. I'm talking about Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler in particular, as each of those two players truly emerged during the 2013 postseason and became near-household names.
Here's to hoping your favorite team only has to deal with risers.
Team: Memphis Grizzlies
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 10.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.3 blocks, 11.5 PER
Tayshaun Prince's decline has been imminent for a while now, but he's on his last legs. That was quite clear when he transitioned from the Detroit Pistons to the Memphis Grizzlies during the middle of the 2012-13 campaign.
Below are his per-36 numbers with each squad, courtesy of Basketball-Reference:
Prince needs to be a scorer for the Grizz, as the team sorely lacks any go-to point-producers, but he's incapable of doing so at this stage of his career. That unorthodox jumper still works, but he has more difficulty creating separation and can't generate easy looks.
Expect Jamaal Franklin and Quincy Pondexter to take on bigger roles at the expense of the former champion. At least he'll make a defensive impact on one of the league's top defensive squads. That will be enough for Prince to maintain a spot in the rotation, but he'll lose his starting job right around the All-Star break after Franklin has proved that his versatility is worth a large chunk of minutes.
Is this a cop out?
Yeah, probably. But there are only five spots available, and too many members of the Utah Jazz need mentioning. Plus, it's impossible to predict which ones are going to experience the biggest breakouts.
The first candidate is Gordon Hayward, the baby-faced swingman out of Butler. After scoring 14.1 points per game in 2012-13, he's poised to take another step forward, becoming much more efficient during his fourth professional season.
The frontcourt also boasts some candidates for the title of biggest riser: Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. Both players have looked great in limited action and should have a firm grasp on starting spots during the 2013-14 campaign.
Kanter averaged 16.9 points and 10.2 rebounds per 36 minutes as a second-year player, and he's learned quite a few finesse moves from Al Jefferson, who has left Salt Lake City for the Charlotte Bobcats. He was a much more steady presence than he was during his rookie season, and that won't change now that he's about to experience an uptick in minutes.
As for Favors, he's an incredible rebounder and a rising star on the defensive end of the court. Plus he's retained the athleticism and size that made him a standout at Georgia Tech.
I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention Brandon Rush, who was ready to do great things for the Golden State Warriors before tearing his ACL at the beginning of the season. He's not going to be a star, but the change in scenery should allow him to emerge as a "three and D" stud.
Any of these players as individuals would fall behind the Boston Celtics' Jeff Green in these rankings of the biggest risers, but the combined effort earns them the final spot.
Team: Minnesota Timberwolves
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.1 blocks, 16.0 PER
Kevin Martin basically used the 2013 postseason to prove that he no longer possessed the takeover gene.
When Russell Westbrook went down with a torn meniscus against the Houston Rockets, the Oklahoma City Thunder needed someone to step up and help Kevin Durant carry the scoring load. K-Mart and Serge Ibaka were the natural candidates, but neither could fill in the dynamic point guard's shoes.
It was Reggie Jackson who provided the unexpected boost as Martin averaged only 14.0 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game. Those numbers should not have been comparable to his regular season stats.
Now Martin is joining the Minnesota Timberwolves, where his role will decline even further. He's expected to move from sixth man to a starting job, but that doesn't mean he'll be anything more than a role player subbed out whenever defense is needed.
He does provide the 'Wolves with size and shooting ability from the outside, but he's—at best—a quaternary option behind Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic. He's going to have to adjust to rarely touching the ball except for spot-up situations.
Team: Denver Nuggets
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 9.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.4 steals, 2.0 blocks, 20.7 PER
JaVale McGee has a starting job.
According to ESPN's Ramona Shelburne, McGee's role with the team was one of the biggest reasons that head coach George Karl was let go:
A source with knowledge of the situation told Shelburne one of the primary issues the Nuggets had with Karl was his reluctance to play young center JaVale McGee, whom they had signed to a four-year, $44 million extension in the offseason.
Brian Shaw should have no such reservations about playing the young 7-footer, especially because he's a coach who specializes in player development. The new head coach has been credited with improving Paul George, Lance Stephenson and Andrew Bynum during his days as an assistant.
Under Shaw's tutelage, McGee should experience a bump in maturity and consistency, allowing him to put his physical gifts to great use. The 25-year-old has thrived in his limited action, but now he's going to be playing at least 10 minutes more per game, especially without Kosta Koufos stealing his minutes.
The Nuggets need their young guns to step up following the departure of Andre Iguodala, and McGee's progression will determine just how far this team can go in the Western Conference playoffs. If they make it past 82 games, of course.
Team: Brooklyn Nets
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.4 blocks
Paul Pierce will remain a great player, but his days as a superstar are behind him. The decline from "superstar" to "great player" can often be just as sizable as the transition from "solid player" to "scrub," so this inclusion is not in any way an indictment of Pierce's skill.
It's merely a commentary on his changing role.
With the Boston Celtics, Pierce was the offensive stud. He didn't control the ball as much as Rajon Rondo, but he was the primary scorer, go-to player on offense and clutch mastermind.
That's not the case on the Brooklyn Nets.
Pierce is now joining a starting lineup that also features Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez. He can't dominate the ball, and he's going to make a successful transition to "role player" status. Pierce will become a dangerous spot-up threat and begin saving even more of his energy for the defensive end of the court, where he's one of the most underrated performers in basketball history.
Again, he'll be quite good in this role. But he's a big faller because that role is changing.
Team: Toronto Raptors
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 8.9 points, 6.0 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.3 steals, 1.3 blocks, 15.6 PER
Now we're getting into the realm of players who seem like sure things to take massive strides forward. Anybody who watched Jonas Valanciunas absolutely dominate the competition at the Las Vegas Summer League should agree that he belongs near the top of the biggest risers.
As a rookie, Valanciunas averaged 13.5 points and 9.0 rebounds per 36 minutes while shooting 55.7 percent from the field. Those are impressive numbers for any big man, much less a first-year player attempting to make the transition from Lithuania to the NBA.
Defensively, Valanciunas does need to improve rather significantly. According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), the big man ranked 279th in the NBA by allowing 0.9 points per possession. He was great at closing out on spot-up shooters, but he struggled immensely guarding isolation sets and post-ups.
The same can't be said about his offense.
Valanciunas can overpower the opposition or dazzle them with some fancy footwork, and he did both as a rookie. Synergy reveals that he finished 39th in points per possession, a number boosted by his post-up game, ability to finish after grabbing an offensive rebound and his impressive play in the pick-and-roll game.
Expect big things.
Team: Orlando Magic
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.1 blocks, 14.4 PER
Jameer Nelson has a non-guaranteed salary after the 2013-14 season comes to a close, which means that the Orlando Magic could start phasing him out as they either hope to land their point guard of the future in the 2014 NBA draft (Dante Exum or Andrew Harrison in particular) or look to move Victor Oladipo to the 1.
Regardless, Nelson is in for a reduction in playing time and role.
He's been declining for a while now, and while he remains a solid, low-level starting point guard, he isn't the future for the Magic. Nelson's PER has gone down every season since his stellar 2008-09 season, and that trend is likely to continue as the years keep on piling up.
Unless he can regain his shooting stroke—something that has looked worse since his quickness declined and he lost the ability to gain as much separation from defenders—Nelson's career will continue tracking in the downward direction.
At least the Magic have plenty of young players to get excited about.
Team: Phoenix Suns
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 8.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.7 blocks, 17.5 PER
Eric Bledsoe thrived as Chris Paul's backup for the Los Angeles Clippers, but now it's looking like he'll start next to Goran Dragic for the Phoenix Suns.
The 23-year-old guard earned the "mini LeBron" moniker for a reason during the 2012-13 campaign. He flies around the court, inserts himself in all facets of the game and displays a tremendous level of athleticism that allows him to create an abundance of upper-tier highlights.
Really, the only thing holding Bledsoe back is the lack of a jumper. If he develops a consistent perimeter shot, the sky is the limit.
But for now, his defensive prowess is enough for him to earn the No. 2 spot among the league's biggest risers.
Even though he played behind CP3, one of the league's best defensive point guards, Bledsoe helped the Clippers allow five fewer points per 100 possessions when he was on the court. And his defensive greatness was by no means limited to team impact.
According to Synergy, he struggled defending isolation plays and spot-up shooters, but that should improve as he gets more experience playing against offensive studs. It's a great sign that he already excels guarding pick-and-roll sets, seeing as the NBA is filled with such a preponderance of them.
Team: San Antonio Spurs
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 11.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.2 blocks, 19.0 PER
San Antonio Spurs fans, fear not.
Any decline in production from Manu Ginobili will be more than made up for by the increased production of Kawhi Leonard, who broke out in a big way during the postseason and thrived on the sport's biggest stage.
Manu is 36 years old now.
The years and injuries are starting to take their toll, and the shooting guard just didn't look like himself during the postseason. He struggled to remain effective, missing shots with alarming frequency, showing no care for the ball and letting opponents score far too often.
Ginobili isn't as bad as he looked at times against the Miami Heat. Erik Spoelstra's suffocating defense has a knack for doing that to players, but it was emblematic of the overall decline.
For the second season in a row, Ginobili played just over 23 minutes per game. But this year, his shooting percentages plummeted and he was nowhere near as effective when on the court.
Sad as it may be, the Argentinian 2-guard will simply be a role player off the bench during what could be his final NBA season.
Team: Detroit Pistons
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 7.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.6 blocks, 21.6 PER
Andre Drummond looked like a future MVP candidate and Defensive Player of the Year favorite during the Orlando Summer League. Granted he did so against low-level competition, but it was still encouraging to see such extreme levels of dominance.
The Detroit Pistons big man shocked many analysts (myself included) after proving the "raw" assertions wrong with a great rookie season. He was a physical stud, a defensive presence and a player just brimming over with potential.
Now he's in a great situation to realize all of it.
Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith and Greg Monroe will take a bunch of offensive pressure off him, allowing the big man to focus on improving his free-throw shooting while he continues to dominate in pick-and-roll sets and finishing plays after grabbing rebounds. And, of course, he'll be a defensive phenom.
Drummond's Synergy numbers are nothing if not stellar.
As a rookie who was supposed to take years to adapt to the sport's premier league, the Connecticut product ranked 87th in points per possession allowed (0.82) and 56th in points per possession scored (1.01).
Add in some Team USA experience and reports that he's emerging as a leader before even turning 21.
Drummond is one of the next big things in this league, so make sure you tune in to a few Pistons games whenever possible.