This could finally be the year that DeMarcus Cousins truly busts out.
Every year, a few NBA players tend to blossom and take that next step into stardom. Sometimes, a player will put together a few monster games in a row, and the world will take notice. Other times, someone will show steady improvement throughout the season, but nobody really becomes aware of it until the national stage that is the playoffs.
One name in particular who took that leap in 2012-13 is Paul George. He had a very effective 82-game campaign, and several postseason posterizations later, he became a nationwide hit. Everyone fell in love with his game, some going as far to proclaim him the next Tracy McGrady (you know, the McGrady we saw when he was actually healthy).
With a wealth of young talent around the league, there is certainly a strong possibility that we could see several guys ascend to that next level in 2013-14.
For Jeff Green, the time is now.
With Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce no longer wearing Boston Celtics uniforms and Rajon Rondo possibly missing some time while recovering from a torn ACL, the onus will fall on Green's shoulders to produce. Not just for this season, but for the future as well.
Coming back from heart surgery that he underwent in January 2012, Green got off to a rather slow start during the 2012-13 campaign. However, once he got his legs back underneath him, Green displayed why the Celtics traded Kendrick Perkins for him to begin with.
Between the months of January and April, Green shot 49.4 percent from the floor. Between February and April, he connected on an incredible 44.2 percent of his three-point attempts. Also, in the 17 games that Green started, he posted 20.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game off 52.3 percent shooting, hitting 51.9 percent of his long-range tries.
Green continued his onslaught during the playoffs, tallying 20.3 points and 5.3 rebounds. His field goal percentage dipped to 43.5 percent in those six games, but his aggressiveness and willingness to take over games was certainly encouraging.
Green's role will be more significant during 2013-14 than it has been in his entire career. It seems like he is ready to accept that challenge.
Kemba Walker has been in a very difficult situation his first two years, having been stuck on probably the worst team in the league with scarce talent around him.
Well, now, Walker is finally getting some help.
With the Charlotte Bobcats making the move to sign Al Jefferson this summer, Walker finally has a dependable big man who can take some pressure off of him and open up his game. Plus, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is entering his second season, and an improvement is expected of the youngster.
Possessing blinding quickness and a nose for the basket, Walker certainly has the ability to develop into a star. He just needs some support, and he needs to improve his shot selection.
After shooting only 36.6 percent during his rookie campaign, Walker shot 42.3 percent from the floor in 2012-13, so he has gotten better. However, he will need to continue to trend upward if he truly wants to reach that next level. Allen Iverson could get away with shooting a low percentage, but chances are, Walker is not Iverson.
Also, a very notable statistic: after recording a paltry -0.2 offensive win shares in 2011-12, Walker upped that total to 3.7 offensive win shares this past season. Expect that number to increase in 2013-14.
The rookie year that Andre Drummond was able to put together is absolutely something to be marveled.
The 20-year-old averaged 7.9 points and 7.6 rebounds in just 20.7 minutes per game, and translated over 36 minutes, those numbers come out to 13.8 points and 13.2 boards. Saying that is impressive doesn't even do Drummond justice.
While the Connecticut product is likely never going to be a consistent force on the offensive end, he has demonstrated the potential to be an absolute animal on the glass. Thanks to his athleticism, he should be able to score plenty of easy points off of alley-oops and put-back slams.
With a full season under his belt, expect Drummond to be even better this coming year. The kid averaged .172 win shares per 48 minutes in 2012-13, an extraordinary number for a rookie. If he was capable of that in his first year, you can only imagine the kind of things he will be able to do once he gets more experience.
Don't be surprised if Drummond averages a double-double in 2013-14.
Harrison Barnes quickly silenced everyone who questioned his athleticism, throwing down what many consider to be the 2012-13 dunk of the year over the burly Nikola Pekovic. That wouldn't be his last rim-rocking slam of the season, either.
What was most impressive about Barnes during his rookie campaign, however, was how he played beyond his years during the playoffs.
The 21-year-old posted an outstanding 16.1 points and 6.4 rebounds a contest after averaging 9.2 points and 4.1 boards during the regular season. Obviously, the kid steps up his performance on the big stage, which is exceedingly important.
For Barnes, 2013-14 may be a bit tricky, as he now has to share time with both Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala. There is a chance that he plays some power forward, but that will surely take him out of his element.
Still, the thought here is that for a player as talented as Barnes, he will adjust and turn into a star soon enough.
Chandler Parsons was one of the most pleasant surprises of the 2012-13 campaign. The 24-year-old tallied 15.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game and shot 48.6 percent from the floor. He also converted on 38.5 percent of his three-point tries.
With the Houston Rockets' addition of Dwight Howard, Parsons' job will likely become easier. Defenses will no longer focus primarily on Parsons and James Harden; they have to worry about Howard now, too. That should make Parsons an even bigger threat on the perimeter, as teams are sure to pay considerable attention to Dwight in the paint.
Plus, Parsons' game is not just about scoring. As you can glean from his assist numbers, he is also a very solid playmaker. With a better supporting cast around him, it would not be shocking to see a bump in that statistic in 2013-14. Not only that, but the third-year man out of Florida is a good wing defender, as well.
There really isn't much not to like about Chandler Parsons, and we could definitely see him bust out in a big way this coming season.
Do you know the type of numbers Tobias Harris put up with the Orlando Magic in 2012-13?
Harris spent 27 games with the Magic after being traded from the Milwaukee Bucks midseason. During those 27 contests, he recorded 17.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks a night.
That's right; 8.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks for a guy who is listed as 6'8", 227 pounds.
Harris does numerous things well, particularly running the floor and playing with 100 percent effort on every possession. He has an outstanding motor, and that can easily be seen in his statistics. Where he needs to improve, however, is defensively. While he does block some shots, he is not a great one-on-one defender. Also, it would behoove him to work on his outside shooting touch.
Regardless of his deficiencies, Harris' numbers do not lie. The kid has talent, and this season could be a paramount year for the 21-year-old.
That being said, much of that depends on what head coach Jacque Vaughn decides to do with the starting lineup. Harris played power forward during Glen Davis' absence this past season. When Davis returns, will Tobias return to the 3 and bump Maurice Harkless to the 2, or will he go to the bench with Harkless staying at small forward?
It should be interesting to see how this unfolds.
Kawhi Leonard was so outstanding throughout the 2012-13 playoffs that some pontificated whether or not he had a higher ceiling than Paul George.
Simply put, this kid is big-time. The 22-year-old averaged .194 win shares per 48 minutes during the postseason, tallying 13.5 points and nine rebounds per game. He also shot 54.5 percent from the field to boot.
During the regular season, Leonard compiled true shooting and effective field percentages of 59.2 and 55.6 percent, respectively, not to mention the fact that he posted .166 win shares per 48 minutes.
Leonard is immensely talented, possessing a great feel for the game offensively and an outstanding presence of mind on the other end of the floor. The San Diego State product has stamped his name among the best perimeter defenders in the league, displaying great floor awareness and anticipation. He also has long arms and freakishly big hands which help him in all areas of the game.
With the San Antonio Spurs' Big Three another year older, expect Leonard to take an even bigger step forward in 2013-14. An All-Star Game appearance should not surprise anyone.
With Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap now playing elsewhere, Gordon Hayward will take center stage for the Utah Jazz.
Hayward is a fine all-around player with no glaring weaknesses in his game. He can score, pass, handle the ball and defend. He could stand to improve his rebounding, but it is not necessarily incumbent upon the 23-year-old to hit the glass.
Hayward has had a rather strange go of it during his first three years in the NBA, as his stats—particularly his shooting percentages—have fluctuated across the board. What has remained constant, however, is his high basketball IQ and his propensity toward making the right basketball play.
The thing with Hayward is that he has never truly had a chance to shine in Utah, as Jefferson and Millsap always overshadowed him. Now, he will take on a leadership role as the best player on the team, similar to his time at Butler.
Look for Hayward to fill up the box score this season, perhaps averaging something like 18 points, five rebounds and five assists.
Wall missed the first 33 games of the 2012-13 campaign due to a knee injury, but upon returning, he showed plenty of glimpses as to why the Wizards made him their No. 1 overall selection in the 2010 draft.
The 6'4" point guard averaged 18.5 points and 7.6 assists per game, shooting a career-high 44.1 percent from the floor in the process. Still, his effective field goal percentage of 44.9 percent was downright ugly, and although it was better than his career average of 43.2 percent, it's a number that needs to improve significantly.
The good news is that Wall posted a career-best .134 win shares per 48 minutes in 2012-13, so he is getting better.
Watch out: this could be the year that Wall breaks out once and for all. He has the talent to do so. We're just waiting on him to put it all together.
Finally, we arrive at DeMarcus Cousins, a 23-year-old who could be one of the best players in the NBA if his mind is in the right place.
Cousins is a 6'11", 270-pound behemoth who does things that a 6'11", 270-pound behemoth shouldn't be able to do. He runs the floor, makes behind-the-back passes and handles the ball like a guard. He also does things that ballplayers of his size should be able to do well, such as posting up and crashing the glass.
The problem with Cousins is, of course, his maturity (or lack thereof). He has had too many run-ins with the Sacramento Kings organization and has done far too many silly things on the court that have been detrimental to his team. It's time he kicks those bad habits and starts focusing solely on basketball, because it seems like Cousins himself doesn't even realize how good he can be.
This is a guy who can average 25 and 12 if he puts his mind to it. He is that talented. Cousins has the ability to be the best big man in the league. Yes, better than Dwight Howard, Marc Gasol and whomever else you may think of. His raw talent cannot be questioned.
Fortunately, there was a lot to be positive about from his 2012-13 performance. A career 44.8 percent shooter, Cousins shot the ball at a 49.1 percent clip after the All-Star break. He was taking better, smarter shots and wasn't falling too in love with the mid-range jumper. A DeMarcus Cousins that is combining his strength and footwork inside for easy buckets is a player that no one in this league wants to deal with.
The 2013-14 campaign will be Cousins' fourth season, and this may be the best Kings team he has had yet. If he doesn't bust out now, he may never do so. This is the perfect opportunity for Cousins to show the city of Sacramento and everyone else what he is really made of.
Prediction? Cousins is an All-Star, something that has been a long time coming.