One Key Adjustment for the NBA's Top 100 Players, Training Camp Edition
Life isn't easy for NBA superstars.
Sure there are obvious perks to the job: playing basketball for a living, six-, seven- or eight-figure contracts, the benefits afforded to a life in the spotlight.
But not all that glitters is gold.
Their life's work can be lost in an instant. Injuries, opportunities and fits all factor into the lifespan of their playing careers, never mind the influx of talented hopefuls looking to claim their roster spots each year.
Finding a path to the NBA is hard enough; sustaining a career is even more challenging. Players need to always stay one step ahead of the curve, work on maximizing their strengths and minimizing their weaknesses.
Any player, no matter how talented, always has room to grow. Some have more glaring holes in their game than others, but all have at least one area in need of improvement.
*To compile this list of the league's top-100 players, a number of factors come into play. Proven production carries a lot of weight, but so too does potential as this is meant to look ahead at the upcoming season. Transactions had to be taken into account, both for the adjustments in systems and the expanded or decreased roles. Existing injuries were considered, but weighed heavier on players with a history of medical red flags.
**All statistics, unless otherwise noted, used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com, HoopData.com, 82games.com and NBA.com.
***Disagree with my rankings, feel free to let me know how and why in the comments section below.
100. Kyle Lowry, PG, Toronto Raptors
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 11.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, 6.4 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.4 blocks, 17.5 PER
Key Adjustment: Patience
At one time, Kyle Lowry looked to be on the cusp of becoming an elite signal caller.
With bulldog toughness at both ends of the floor, his combination of strength, speed and skills oozed potential.
But his strengths and weaknesses often work in tandems, which helps explain why he's spent his first seven NBA seasons with three different franchises.
He has some street ball flair to his game, which shines in both his isolation work and strong drives to the basket. But it also limits his effectiveness as a floor general, as he tends to force the issue before Dwane Casey's sets are in prime position.
He dials his own number too early too often, as 41 percent of his field-goal attempts came in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock last season via 82games.com. That figure doesn't mesh well with his subpar 40.1 percent mark from the field.
He needs to remain aggressive to help take some defensive heat off Rudy Gay and Jonas Valanciunas, but not to the point that he diminishes the impact of the team's strongest scoring threats.
99. Greivis Vasquez, PG, Sacramento Kings
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 13.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.1 blocks, 16.3 PER
Key Adjustment: Better Decision-Making
It's become one of basketball's saddest broken records—the Sacramento Kings are hording point guards.
Greivis Vasquez, acquired via sign-and-trade with the New Orleans Pelicans, joins a Kings backcourt that includes a pair of lottery picks (Jimmer Fredette and Ray McCallum) and incumbent starter Isaiah Thomas.
New Kings coach Michael Malone has a number of options to choose as his floor general, but like with the rest of the roster, all of them have risks.
It sounds strange saying Vasquez, the third best table-setter in 2012-13, has problems making sound decisions, but there's more to running an offense than just racking up assists.
For starters, he has some serious problems with ball control. He had a higher turnover percentage (18.6) and lower usage rate (23.0) than supposed point-guards-in-training Stephen Curry (13.7 and 26.4, respectively) and Kemba Walker (12.4 and 25.6).
He also needs to pack more of a scoring punch given his defensive limitations. But his point total won't increase until he solves his shooting woes (career .429/.325 slash) and gets more aggressive attacking the basket (2.0 free-throw attempts in 34.4 minutes per game in 2012-13).
98. Nene, PF/C, Washington Wizards
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 12.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.6 blocks, 17.0 PER
Key Adjustment: Getting Offensive
During his one-plus year stay with the Washington Wizards, Nene has split time serving as both John Wall's sidekick and a member of the aging, walking wounded. A series of injuries, none more damaging than the persistent foot pain that made him consider retirement, limited him to just 27.2 minutes in the 61 games he was able to play last season.
But even through adversity, Nene made his mark as one half of a suffocating interior tandem. Working alongside Emeka Okafor, the pair held opponents to just 97.1 points per 100 possessions. That defensive rating was better than all but one team in the entire league last season (Indiana Pacers, 96.6).
But the problem for Washington was the fact neither player was particularly productive at the other end. Together they helped to produce just 101.6 points per 100 possessions during their shared floor time.
Okafor isn't on the floor for his offense. He's a rim protector and glass eater; that's the extent of his job description.
Nene, though, has played a leading offensive role before. In 2010-11, he gave the Denver Nuggets 14.5 points a night on a league-best 61.5 percent shooting from the field.
Last season that figure plummeted to 48.0 as he struggled to hit anything away from the basket (33.5 percent outside of 3 feet). If he can rediscover his shooting touch, it would solve a lot of the spacing issues facing this team given Okafor's limitations and John Wall's lack of a reliable long ball.
97. Omer Asik, C, Houston Rockets
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 10.1 points, 11.7 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.1 blocks, 14.9 PER
Key Adjustment: Developing Offensive Post Game
The Houston Rockets plan to experiment with an Omer Asik-Dwight Howard frontcourt pairing, but the 7-footer will find most of his playing time with the second team. No matter the defensive ceiling this combo could have, the logistical spacing issues at the other end would be too great to overcome for prolonged stretches.
But a move back to the bench might not be as bad as Asik thinks.
Rather than fighting Howard, James Harden and Chandler Parsons for touches, Asik could be the primary option of the reserve group. Given that he attempted only 7.5 shots per contest last season, he wouldn't need that many minutes to replicate his offensive workload.
The real challenge will be showing a scoring touch reliable enough to demand consistent chances.
While Asik managed his first season of double-digit points in 2012-13, he did most of his damage on dump-off passes and second-chance buckets. More than 82 percent of his 354 field goals were dunks (140) or layups (151).
Assuming he isn't joined by playmakers Harden or Jeremy Lin on the second team, Asik will have to take a more proactive approach in finding his offense.
96. Kevin Martin, SG, 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
Key Adjustment: Driving...and Finishing
Kevin Martin knows all about facing elevated expectations.
Last season he was tasked with filling James Harden's shoes on the Oklahoma City Thunder. In 2013-14 he embodies the Minnesota Timberwolves' attempt to prove to Kevin Love that they are just as hungry for success as he is.
Martin has typically fared well in the league's move toward a more analytical approach to statistics. He built his best scoring seasons—including five straight campaigns with 20-plus points from 2006-11—around the game's most efficient shots: triples, free throws and point-blank looks.
In 2012-13 his offensive responsibility was drastically decreased. His 10.1 field-goal attempts were his fewest since 2005-06.
Reduced to a floor-spacing role, Martin's aggressiveness was lost. He attempted only 3.2 free throws per game, barely more than half his career average (6.1).
He'll need to spread the floor again to give Love and Ricky Rubio room to operate. But he can add so much more to his offense if he gets back to attacking the basket.
95. Anderson Varejao, PF/C, Cleveland Cavaliers
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.1 points, 14.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.6 blocks, 21.7 PER
Key Adjustment: Fine-Tuning Mid-range Game
Before a blood clot cut abruptly ended his 2012-13 campaign after only 25 games, Anderson Varejao was in the midst of a career year. He set personal bests in scoring, rebounding, assists and player efficiency rating.
Whether he's able to pick up where he left off with the Cleveland Cavaliers may be out of his control. The Cavs bolstered their frontcourt with top-pick Anthony Bennett and former All-Star Andrew Bynum over the summer, so Varejao will need to strengthen his offensive arsenal if he hopes to reclaim some of the 36.0 minutes he averaged last season.
Back-to-the-basket scoring may never be one of the 30-year-old's strengths, but an efficient face-up game could well be in the works.
When he's facing the tin, Varejao can take advantage of his quickness, passing and improving mid-range jumper (41.0 percent or better from 16-23 feet in two of the last three seasons).
He could be the hustler that Bynum's never been, while Bynum can challenge the shots that Varejao never has. It's one of many potentially potent frontcourt pairings for Cleveland in 2013-14 but has a chance to be the best.
94. Victor Oladipo, PG/SG, Orlando Magic
2012-13 Per-Game Stats (at Indiana University): 13.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.2 steals, 0.8 blocks, 28.9 PER
Key Adjustment: Tightening Handles
Victor Oladipo is right—he enters a better situation with the Orlando Magic than he would have had he been drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers first overall.
Absent any postseason aspirations, Oladipo joins a club willing to live with his growing pains. He may still be trapped behind two incumbent starters, but those players (Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo) are in the unenviable position of being veterans on a rebuilding club.
Oladipo might not crack Jacque Vaughn's starting group, but he could pace the backcourt in minutes played.
In order to maximize his opportunity, he'll need to ace his Floor General 101 course that started this summer. More of a Swiss Army knife at Indiana, Oladipo emerged as Orlando's unlikely starting point guard for Summer League play.
According to Magic general manager Rob Hennigan, that experiment is far from finished.
His first exposure brought more questions than answers. His talent was on full display this summer (19.0 points, 5.0 assists, 4.3 rebounds) but so were those growing pains (4.8 turnovers, 37.5 field-goal percentage).
93. Tony Allen, SG, Memphis Grizzlies
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 8.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.6 blocks, 13.2 PER
Key Adjustment: Impacting Both Ends
Tony Allen is so talented as a defender that if he was simply a mediocre offensive player, he'd be a perennial All-Star.
His good is nothing short of basketball bliss.
The leading vote getter among 2012-13 All-Defensive first-team selections, he defends wherever he's needed. The Grizzlies were among the NBA's best defensive teams with Allen on the floor last season (98.2 points allowed per 100 possessions) but became mediocre when he went to the bench (104.9).
So why doesn't he get more respect than he does? Why has he never managed more than the 26.7 minutes he averaged last season?
Because his offensive skill is nonexistent.
He can't shoot (30.0 percent outside of 3 feet) or pass (career 1.3 assists per game). He doesn't crash the offensive glass (1.5 offensive rebounds in 2012-13) or play above the rim as often as his athleticism says he should.
If Memphis newcomer (or returner rather) Mike Miller helps the Grizzlies better space the floor, Allen's work away from the ball could help him capture more recognition for his talent.
92. Harrison Barnes, SF, Golden State Warriors
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 9.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.2 blocks, 11.0 PER
Key Adjustment: Attacking off the Dribble
Despite all of the changing faces around him on the Golden State Warriors, Harrison Barnes isn't about to get lost in the shuffle.
Not after his breakout postseason performance that saw him nearly double his scoring average (16.1 up from 9.2) and increase his shooting numbers across the board (.444/.365/.857 up from .439/.359/.758) from his regular-season effort.
It may not sound like someone who's in risk of losing his starting gig, but that's where Barnes finds himself since the Warriors added Andre Iguodala over the summer.
Barnes says he's willing to accept a reserve role if it helps the team win, via Marcus Thompson of the Contra Costa Times, but his game needs work to thrive as a sixth man.
He has to take a more active role in the offense (his 7.8 field-goal attempts ranked fifth on the Warriors last season) and needs to prepare himself to create more of his own scoring chances next season. More than 61 percent of his field goals came off assists in 2012-13, a number facing a steep decline if he's missing floor time with playmakers Iguodala and Stephen Curry.
91. Ersan Ilyasova, SF/PF, Milwaukee Bucks
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 13.2 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.5 blocks, 18.3 PER
Key Adjustment: Improving On-Ball Defense
Ersan Ilyasova is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenders.
He has a lethal three-point stroke (44.4 percent or better in each of the last two seasons) and the size (6'9") to find shots from anywhere on the floor. He can create off the dribble in spurts, shines for his off-ball spacing and has shown a knack for cleaning the offensive glass in the past (12.7 offensive rebounding percentage in 2011-12).
He's not quite a sieve defender, but he's limited enough that Larry Drew will have to coach around his weakness.
Speedy forwards can run circles around him, and bruisers can bully him in the low post. Sharing the floor with defensive-minded bigs Larry Sanders, John Henson and Zaza Pachulia will help, but they'll lose rebounding position if forced to help on Ilyasova's man.
The Milwaukee Bucks will need Ilyasova to take on more offensive responsibility now that scoring guards Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis are gone. But he'll need to show more consistent defensive effort to warrant getting major minutes at Henson's expense.
90. Andrew Bogut, C, Golden State Warriors
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 5.8 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.7 blocks, 13.8 PER
Key Adjustment: Offensive Aggression
Andrew Bogut was limited to just 32 games in his debut season with the Golden State Warriors.
Despite the small sample, though, he was able to flash some of the ability that made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2005.
He sent back 2.5 shots per 36 minutes, which put him 17th in the league and tied with former three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard. Come playoff time, he tracked down 10.9 rebounds a night, which would have been seventh most in the regular season among qualified glass eaters.
Health is always a concern, considering he's missed at least 46 games in three of the last five seasons.
Assuming he's good to go, which he told the Associated Press he is, it's time to transition some of that aggression he showed defensively to the offensive end. He's converted at least 60 percent of his chances at the rim in seven of his eight seasons in the league, and an interior scoring threat would make Golden State's perimeter scorers even more efficient.
89. Amar'e Stoudemire, PF/C, New York Knicks
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.7 blocks, 22.1 PER
Key Adjustment: Consistent Energy
Barring any unforeseen changes with the New York Knicks, it seems unlikely that Amar'e Stoudemire will ever get back to his days of 36-plus minutes a night.
He clogs up the middle alongside Tyson Chandler and saps Carmelo Anthony's efficiency by moving the reigning scoring champion back out to the perimeter. If that wasn't enough, he's lost significant time to back and knee injuries over the last two seasons.
When healthy, he can still be a dominant scorer in a diminished role. His 21.8 points per 36 minutes in 2012-13 was nearly identical to his career average (22.5), and his 57.7 field-goal percentage was the second best of his career.
The important thing for Stoudemire moving forward is to attack both ends of the floor regardless of his minutes total. His defense wavers between serviceable and frightening, but he blames a lack of proper teaching more than inconsistent energy, via Newsday's Al Iannazzone.
Newcomer Andrea Bargnani is no better defensively, but his three-point shooting (career 36.1 percent) should be easier to work into the offense.
If Stoudemire wants to hold on to the playing time he's getting, he'll need more than scoring to justify his minutes.
88. Ryan Anderson, PF, New Orleans Pelicans
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.4 blocks, 18.1 PER
Key Adjustment: Tightening Shot Selection
Just when he seemed to have found his comfort zone, Ryan Anderson appears headed for yet another adjustment in 2013-14.
After two largely forgettable seasons to start his career (7.6 points in 17.2 minutes per game), he emerged as one of the league's more potent complementary pieces. He earned the Most Improved Player award in 2011-12 while working alongside Dwight Howard in Orlando (16.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game), then maintained his production in a supporting role for Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon in New Orleans.
Now that Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans are fighting for touches with the Pelicans, Anderson will slide down the offensive pecking order. For the first time in his career, he'll likely attempt fewer shots than he did in the previous season.
But that could be a boost to Anderson's efficiency.
For as prolific of a shooter as he is (league-leading 166 triples in the strike-shortened 2011-12 season), he only has a career 42.6 percent success rate from the field. He's a lethal option off the catch, but his isolation offense is limited.
Chances may be coming fewer and farther between for Anderson, but he should be primed to make the most of them.
87. Ricky Rubio, PG, Minnesota Timberwolves
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 10.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 2.4 steals, 0.1 blocks, 16.2 PER
Key Adjustment: Finding a Comfort Zone
Ricky Rubio deserves a little bit of credit for knowing his weakness. He had ample opportunity to shoot his team out of contention, but fired up fewer field-goal attempts per 36 minutes last season than 11 of his Minnesota Timberwolves teammates.
He's a pass-first point guard by nature, but right now he's a pass-only point guard by necessity. Any shot has been a bad one through his first two seasons.
He doesn't need three-point range to be effective. Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo have proven that.
But Rubio needs to find his offensive comfort zone. Soon.
He's hit just 35.9 percent of his field-goal attempts in his career. He shot under 45 percent at the rim last season and 31.9 percent from everywhere else.
His court vision, passing ability and creativity can elevate the play of his teammates, but his lack of any scoring threat is quickly closing his passing lanes.
If he's healthy and efficient next season, the Timberwolves should finally realize their postseason hopes.
86. Jamal Crawford, SG, Los Angeles Clippers
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.5 points, 1.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.2 blocks, 16.8 PER
Key Adjustment: Playing Inside-Out
Jamal Crawford has seen his reputation bruised and battered for his defensive effort throughout his career.
Analysts have used it to describe how someone with has talent level has spent the last five seasons with six different teams. Grantland's Zach Lowe called Crawford "a flammable sieve on defense in just about every possible way."
Either Crawford made some serious strides on that end last season or numbers really do lie. When he was on the floor, the Los Angeles Clippers allowed 103.5 points per 100 possessions but gave up 106.9 when Crawford was sidelined.
If he's found a way to positively impact that end, then his talents at the other could have the 33-year-old primed for his best season yet.
Possessing perhaps the best handles in the business, he can create separation from any defender.
But it'd be nice to see him use that strength to create better offensive chances for himself. He took 698 shots from beyond 16 feet last season and just 380 from within, despite having a much higher success rate on the latter (52.1 percent) than the former (38.8 percent).
85. Thaddeus Young, PF, Philadelphia 76ers
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.7 blocks, 18.2 PER
Key Adjustment: Finding a Shot From Distance
Notice how vague that adjustment is: shooting from "distance." Frankly it could read three-point shooting, mid-range shooting or even free-throw shooting; all would unfortunately apply here.
Thaddeus Young should be a tough cover.
He can overwhelm smaller defenders with his length (6'8"), reach (6'11.5" wingspan at predraft measurements in 2007) and soft touch on his hook shot (58.6 percent in 2012-13). Against bigger forwards, Young can frustrate with his athleticism and rapid first step.
But his perimeter game—an area that Chris Vito of the Delaware County Daily Times reports was stressed in Young's exit interview—remains in need of dramatic improvement.
His handles are far from polished, and his effectiveness decreases as he moves away from the basket. He shot 59.3 percent inside of 10 feet last season, but only 38.7 percent from beyond.
The Philadelphia 76ers need a go-to scorer next season. Young will probably carry that torch regardless of his offseason development, but the addition of a perimeter game will take him from expendable to untouchable.
84. Chandler Parsons, SF, Houston Rockets
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 15.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.4 blocks, 15.3 PER
Key Adjustment: Filling Out His Frame
Chandler Parsons is going to run into plenty of large men next season, and not just because he'll share the practice floor with Dwight Howard, Marcus Camby and Omer Asik.
After playing a key factor in bringing Howard to the Houston Rockets, via Darren Heitner of Forbes, Parsons would be wise to follow his new teammate to the weight room.
At 6'9", he's already spent time as a stretch 4 spreading the floor for James Harden and Jeremy Lin to attack. He'll likely play that role even more after Howard's arrival to give the big man more 1-on-1 matchups in the post and more room to roam as a screen-and-roller.
Offensively, the move has obvious benefits for Parsons. When opposing bigs fail to close his shooting window, the career 37.0 percent marksman can fire at will. When they get too far out on the perimeter, Parsons can explode past them to finish his drives or set up his teammates (3.5 assists in 2012-13).
But at the defensive end, it's hardly as much fun. Just 227 pounds, he could be giving up those pounds by the dozen on the low block. Plus the extra weight could come in handy when he's manning stopper duty on the athletic specimens dominating the NBA wings.
83. Klay Thompson, SG, Golden State Warriors
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.5 blocks, 12.7 PER
Key Adjustment: Finding an Offensive Balance
Klay Thompson garners the most attention for being Stephen Curry's "Splash Brother," but he's more than just a long-range marksman.
While his shooting might seem to justify that label (career 40.6 three-point percentage), he's more of a "3 and D" wing than a one-trick specialist. Tasked with the toughest perimeter assignment for the Golden State Warriors last season, Thompson chased elite scorers at one end and scrambled around screeners at the other.
He was the only Warrior to play all 82 games and did so while logging the third most minutes on the team (35.8 a night).
With Andre Iguodala's arrival offering the hope of a breather for Thompson, he can work on making his stat sheet better match his offensive skill set.
He has the handles and quickness to get around defenders on the outside and the build (6'7", 205 lbs) to finish plays at the rim. But less than 34 percent of his field-goal attempts came within 16 feet of the basket, an area where he finished better than 45 percent of his chances.
With a high basketball IQ and a willingness to share the sugar, it'd be nice to see his assist percentage climb back toward the 14.2 mark he set as a rookie in 2011-12.
82. Manu Ginobili, SG, 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
Key Adjustment: Picking His Spots
Manu Ginobili has caused a number of headaches over his 11-year career.
At 36 years old, Ginobili isn't going to change his style now. And he shouldn't; the unpredictability in his game is one of his strongest assets.
But he has to funnel his electric play into more efficient bursts.
He's moved outside the San Antonio Spurs' top three at this point. He can be the same second team gunner he's always been, but he has to remember the kind of talent he has around him.
Popovich's offense creates prime scoring chances more often than not.
When Ginobili plays with some patience, he shows he can still be a magical player. Last season he had an effective field-goal percentage above 59 for all of his shots that came 11-to-20 seconds into the shot clock.
But he took his most shots in the opening 10 seconds of the possession (32 percent) and had just a 34.6 effective field-goal percentage on those looks.
81. Andrei Kirilenko, SF/PF, Brooklyn Nets
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 12.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.0 blocks, 17.6 PER
Key Adjustment: Getting Back on the Offensive
When the Brooklyn Nets landed Andrei Kirilenko on a two-year, $6.5 million deal (player option for 2014-15), it was either the basketball bargain of the century or simply too good to be true.
Rival owners cried afoul when Kirilenko agreed to a deal well below his market value. After all, he did leave a $10.2 million option on the table when he left the Minnesota Timberwolves this summer.
But after some probing by the league office, the contract was validated, via Fred Kerber of the New York Post. The prospect of winning might actually be more valuable to Kirilenko than dollars and cents.
His first order of business in Brooklyn will be helping Kevin Garnett set a suffocating defensive tone. The 32-year-old can guard a number of positions, and he'll need to given the years and NBA mileage on some of his new teammates.
But defense can't be his only priority for 2013-14.
He needs to look for his own shot in the flow of the offense. He's a career 47.3 percent shooter and hit 50.7 percent of his field-goal attempts last season. He reads defenses well and is always a threat for cutting to the basket.
Beyond that, he can bolster Brooklyn's presence on the offensive glass (career 2.1 offensive boards per 36 minutes) and give Jason Kidd's team another reliable passing option (career 3.3 assists per 36 minutes).
80. O.J. Mayo, SG, Milwaukee Bucks
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 15.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.3 blocks, 13.9 PER
Key Adjustment: Never Stop Moving
For O.J. Mayo, the temptation to carry the Milwaukee Bucks will be strong. After sharing the floor with players like Rudy Gay and Marc Gasol in Memphis and Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas, Mayo enters the 2013-14 season as the odds-on favorite to lead an offense for the first time in his career.
But defenses know how to read a lineup card. They'll be looking to stymie Mayo at every opportunity, willing to press their luck that Ersan Ilyasova and Larry Sanders can't score consistently enough to steal a victory.
Mayo should open next season on the move and never stop running. He's a capable ball handler (4.4 assists against 2.6 turnovers last season), but he's at his best when he sets his sights from distance. He set a career best from three last season (40.7 percent) despite a slight uptick in attempts (4.3) from his career average.
So what changed that afforded him this glowing shooting season? He had Nowitzki, a former MVP, drawing the lion's share of the coverage.
He won't have that luxury in Milwaukee—Ilyasova (13.2 points per game) had the highest scoring average last season of any player returning to the Bucks. But he will have the most offensive responsibility of his career.
A mobile Mayo might be Milwaukee's key to holding on to its Eastern Conference playoff ticket.
79. Eric Bledsoe, PG/SG, 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
Key Adjustment: Slowing Down to Speed Up
Get Eric Bledsoe on the move and he's trouble. A two-way threat, he just might mess around and drop a triple-double.
Players with his combination of speed and strength don't come around often, particularly not in a chiseled 6'1", 195-pound frame.
Now that he's left the comfort of the Los Angeles Clippers' second team and taken on a leading role with the youthful Phoenix Suns, there will be a temptation to let him run free.
For Phoenix head coach Jeff Hornacek, the challenge will be finding a comfortable pace for Bledsoe. The coach has already hinted that he plans to up the tempo, via SB Nation's Jim Coughenour, but there's a risk of playing too fast with someone averaging 3.5 turnovers per 36 minutes over their career.
Leaving Goran Dragic as the main signal caller should help, but Bledsoe's sure to get plenty of touches from either guard spot. If he avoids settling for outside shots that he hasn't converted with any consistency (career .431/.308 slash) and waits for better scoring chances to arise, he'll find ways to use his natural gifts more efficiently.
78. George Hill, PG, Indiana Pacers
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.3 blocks, 16.6 PER
Key Adjustment: Trust Teammates and Himself
The Indiana Pacers were not a good passing team in 2012-13.
They averaged the third-fewest assists (20.3) and the ninth-most turnovers (14.5). Their 1.40 assist-to-turnover ratio was the NBA's worst.
George Hill doesn't deserve all of the blame here. In fact, his 3.06 assist-to-turnover mark was the seventh-best in the league.
But that could be less a sign of his ball control and more the effect of his limited work on the ball. His 4.7 assists left him ranked outside of the top-30 in the category, trailing forwards Paul Pierce and Nicolas Batum and reserves Andre Miller and Jarrett Jack.
His responsibilities have increased exponentially since he left the San Antonio Spurs in the summer of 2011. He was a scoring guard with the Spurs, tasked with creating his own offense and nothing more.
In Indiana, he's the closest thing to a floor general on the roster. His reads might still be a work in progress, but he needs to trust his eyes when he sees openings.
There are scorers up and down the roster, Hill included. The next step in making the Pacers his team is elevating the impact of the players around him.
77. Wilson Chandler, SF/PF, Denver Nuggets
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 13.0 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks, 16.6 PER
Key Adjustment: Living on the Low Block
Wilson Chandler is one of the game's ultimate glue guys. Whatever he's lacking in skills, he makes up for with effort and energy.
His rebounding numbers leave something to be desired (career 9.5 rebounding percentage), but other than that, he's shored up most of his weaknesses.
Defensively, he has the size (6'8", 220 lbs) and athleticism to stop guards and forwards alike. Offensively, he thrives in the open court, dazzles above the rim and, if last season wasn't a fluke, adds to the Denver Nuggets' three-point attack (41.3 percent).
Still just 26 years old, Chandler has time to develop into the star player that Denver has been missing since Carmelo Anthony's unsightly departure.
For Chandler to grow from strong supporter to a leading role, he should follow the footsteps of his fellow hybrid forwards and move closer to the basket. With his strength and soft touch around the cup (60.8 percent inside of 3 feet), he could overpower smaller defenders as effectively as he races around bigger ones.
76. Nikola Vucevic, C, Orlando Magic
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 13.1 points, 11.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.0 blocks, 17.8 PER
Key Adjustment: Greasing the Elbows
Last summer, Nikola Vucevic served as a throw-in piece to the four-team trade that sent Dwight Howard to L.A. and Andrew Bynum to Philly.
Just over a year later, he's now standing as the most valuable part of that ill-fated deal.
Thrust into a starting role with the overhauling Orlando Magic, the 22-year-old blossomed into a double-double machine. Only All-Stars Howard (48) and David Lee (56) double dipped more often than the former USC star (46).
His post moves are fluid, but he's not a great athlete. What he lacks in explosiveness, though, he makes up for with a strong fundamental base, something that should make him a cornerstone piece of Orlando's reclamation project.
He has range out to about 18 feet and converted 42.1 of his shots from beyond 10 feet in 2012-13. With the return of one low-post bruiser (Glen Davis) and the offseason arrival of another (Jason Maxiell), Vucevic's mid-range game will be Orlando's best hope for Victor Oladipo's success at the lead guard spot.
Vucevic has a lot of work to do at the opposite end, but fine-tuning his offensive game is a reasonably obtainable goal for 2013-14.
75. Danny Granger, SF, Indiana Pacers
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 5.4 points, 1.8 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.2 blocks, 4.0 PER
Key Adjustment: Adapting to New Role
Embracing his new role remains an impossible task until one is set out for him.
With the All-Star surge of Paul George, the rise to relevance of Lance Stephenson and the second team improvements that the Indiana Pacers have made this summer, Danny Granger remains one of the league's greatest mysteries.
He's too talented to hide on the bench (18.7 points per game in 2011-12) and too expensive to waste ($14 million contract for 2013-14). But the balky knees that limited him to just 74 minutes last season remain a pressing concern for the Pacers, one that could force the championship hopefuls to consider other options.
Coach Frank Vogel told Granger he'll return to a starting spot if he's fully healthy, via Dan Feldman of NBC Sports, but also challenged Stephenson, a starter on Indiana's Eastern Conference Finalist group in 2012-13, to "not let that happen."
Granger's good enough to handle secondary scoring roles behind George, but the days of 30-plus-minutes a night could have passed him by.
74. Tobias Harris, SF/PF, Orlando Magic
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 11.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.8 blocks, 16.0 PER
Key Adjustment: Stop Settling
Since debuting in 2011, Tobias Harris has a year-plus of throwaway film and 20 games of magical moments.
An afterthought in the trade that sent J.J. Redick to the Milwaukee Bucks last season with the Orlando Magic. He averaged 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds for Orlando, sliding over from the small forward to the power forward position.
He's not an athletic specimen by any stretch, but is still explosive enough to blow past bigger, slower defenders. He has smooth handles and a variety of weapons to help him finish drives at the rim (where he converted 60.0 percent of his chances in 2012-13).
As a perimeter-based stretch 4, he has the potential to leap up the rankings as the season progresses. But he could improve by adopting a more aggressive mentality with his touches on the wing.
He's not a three-point shooter, not yet anyway. He shot just 26.1 percent from distance as a rookie and only 31.5 percent last season.
But 21.1 percent of his field-goal attempts in 2012-13 came from three-point land. Granted, he needs to take enough to keep defenders honest, but he could better serve this offense by dialing back those long-distance shots moving forward.
73. Tyreke Evans, SG/SF, New Orleans Pelicans
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 15.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.4 blocks, 18.1 PER
Key Adjustment: Getting Back to the Basics
Tyreke Evans may never again be the 20/5/5 player he was during his rookie season of 2009-10, but the New Orleans Pelicans didn't bring him in to be that.
If they did, their backcourt wouldn't be as crowded as it is with ball-dominant guards (Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Austin Rivers).
Evans seemed like he stopped striving for greatness last season. With that pressure off his shoulders, he quietly pieced together his best season as a pro.
His true shooting percentage (55.8) and effective field goal mark (50.8) were both career bests. His turnover rate (12.6) had never been lower, and his offensive win shares (3.6) had never been higher.
Some might have already given up hope for the 24-year-old, but he could easily impress under the right expectations.
With his size (6'6", 220 lbs), strength and quickness, Evans could thrive as an off-the-ball complement for Holiday and Gordon. As his offensive responsibilities fall, his glass work and defense should rise.
He'll need to fully embrace a supportive role. But if he does, he could be headed toward something even greater than his tantalizing rookie form.
72. Andrew Bynum, C, Cleveland Cavaliers
2011-12* Per-Game Stats: 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.9 blocks, 22.9 PER
Key Adjustment: No More Bowling
Injuries had plagued Andrew Bynum throughout his career, but were never more troubling than last season.
A series of knee injuries, infamously made worse during a bowling trip gone wrong, forced Bynum into street clothes for the entire 2012-13 campaign.
After looking like a certain max-contract candidate, Bynum's medical red flags assaulted his bank account this summer. The two-time champion and former All-NBA second teamer was forced to settle on an incentive-laden deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers that could be worth anywhere from $6 million to $24 million.
If healthy, he can turn the Cavaliers from playoff hopefuls to championship contenders, and he holds as good of a shot as anyone in dethroning Dwight Howard as the league's best center.
Of course, that's the same thing people were saying about the Philadelphia 76ers last season.
His health remains as puzzling as ever.
In July, his agent, David Lee, told the Associated Press that there was "not a concern in the world" that he wouldn't be ready for training camp. But one source told Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio that Bynum is "nowhere near ready" and could miss the camp and the entire preseason.
Basketball's biggest mystery (literally) remains unsolved.
71. Goran Dragic, PG, Phoenix Suns
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.7 points, 3.1 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.3 blocks, 17.5 PER
Key Adjustment: Let It Fly
The Phoenix Suns packed one of the softest scoring punches in the league last season.
Their points per game (95.2) and team field-goal percentage (44.3) both ranked in the bottom third. Their 101.2 offensive rating was the second worst in the NBA.
And this year's group might be even worse.
Four of the Suns' top seven scorers from 2012-13 (Luis Scola, Jared Dudley, Michael Beasley and Jermaine O'Neal) have vacated the desert this summer.
The lone bright spot left behind is Goran Dragic, a 27-year-old with five years of NBA experience.
He wouldn't be the leading scorer if he suited up for 28 other teams (he'd still carry the torch for the rebuilding Philadelphia 76ers), but he's the top man in Phoenix.
He's a willing passer (too a fault, given the players around him) with the handles and quickness to create his own chances near the basket. With no proven help around him, though, he'll find driving lanes clogged or even impenetrable.
The only chance he has at creating any room to operate is by forcing his man far away from the cup. He's not a dead-eye shooter by any stretch (35.0 for his career from deep), but if he can make enough triples, he'll solve one of the number of puzzles awaiting him.
70. Derrick Favors, PF, Utah Jazz
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 9.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.7 blocks, 17.5 PER
Key Adjustment: Learning from The Mailman
Derrick Favors has gotten by on his size (6'10") and athleticism to this point.
Trapped by incumbent talent, he hasn't had the opportunity to do much else. Since being selected No. 3 overall in 2010, Favors has yet to average even 24 minutes a night.
All of that changes this season.
With Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap taking their talents elsewhere, Favors' feasts at the kids' tables are over. He'll be up against the grown ups for better or worse on a Utah Jazz team in the infant stages of a youth movement.
In small doses, Favors has looked incredibly sharp to this point. He's averaged at least 14.6 points, 11.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per 36 minutes in each of his two full seasons in Utah.
If that production is going to carry over to the starting lineup, he'll need more than just length to survive. That's why he sought out Hall of Famer and Jazz legend Karl Malone this summer, hoping the Mailman could pass along some badly needed pointers on the post.
Favors won't flatline. At worst he'll be an intimidating rim protector and active rebounder.
If he finds a few post moves, though, it's game over for his competition.
69. Jeff Teague, PG, Atlanta Hawks
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.6 points, 2.3 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.4 blocks, 16.8 PER
Key Adjustment: Forget About the Offseason
No news isn't always good news.
For the Atlanta Hawks, the lack of publicity in recent seasons usually meant that there just wasn't a juicy Josh Smith story to track. Atlanta's other stars, Jeff Teague and Al Horford, have been too often overlooked and underappreciated.
Flying under-the-radar isn't a bad means of travel during the regular season, but it's hardly a welcome presence at the negotiating table. When Teague's camp felt that lack of attention from his own team this summer, frustration reportedly set in for the restricted free agent, via Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports.
When Teague found interest—and the chance to reunite with former coach Larry Drew, elsewhere this summer—he jumped at the opportunity. He inked a four-year, $32 million offer sheet with the Milwaukee Bucks and stressed his desire for a change of scenery, via Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel.
But Atlanta ultimately matched Milwaukee's offer, meaning Teague's headed right back to where he started.
The only way for this relationship to repair itself is if Teague's ready to leave this summer behind him.
With the right attitude and new, productive teammates around him (notably Paul Millsap and Elton Brand), Teague could make the A-Town the happy home he thought he'd found elsewhere this summer.
68. Joe Johnson, SG, Brooklyn Nets
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.2 blocks, 14.1 PER
Key Adjustment: Iso Flow
Joe Johnson isn't worth his team-high $21.5 million salary, but he's still a valuable piece of the Brooklyn Nets' championship puzzle.
When it comes down to crunch time, few deliver as calmly or efficiently as Iso Joe.
Via Ben Couch of BrooklynNets.com, Johnson came through in 2012-13 when the Nets needed him most. In the final five minutes of close games (with Brooklyn tied or trailing by five points or fewer), Johnson shot .514 percent from the field. He was a .565 percent shooter in the final three minutes and a sizzling 76.9 percent sniper in the final minute.
Injuries and age have sapped some of his effectiveness. His scoring average (16.3) and field-goal percentage (42.3) last season were each the second worst marks of his career.
But in limited doses, with the game's pressure at its highest, he's still a premier offensive talent.
He's still adapting to his new role in Brooklyn, which will change once again with the arrival of veterans Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and new coach Jason Kidd. He'll be asked to share even more of the spotlight in 2013-14.
But he can't disappear completely from the main stage. He just needs to find his identity as a potent complementary player.
67. Jimmy Butler, SG/SF, Chicago Bulls
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 8.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.4 blocks, 15.2 PER
Key Adjustment: Maintain Identity
Jimmy Butler used the 2013 postseason to effectively remove his ceiling.
He stood toe-to-toe with four-time MVP LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. He stepped into a primary scoring role for the injury-plagued Chicago Bulls and responded with 13.3 points and a 40.5 three-point percentage.
Rewarded with a starting spot in Tom Thibodeau's 2013-14 starting lineup, via K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, Butler could make his noise for the second-straight year in the league's Most Improved Player Award voting.
For Butler to keep rising through the ranks, no changes are needed. In fact, a change to his approach could threaten his ascent.
With all of the things that he does well—defense, rebounding, shooting—Butler's still a glue guy at heart. He'll buy extra offensive possessions with his effort and salvage defensive ones with his energy.
As long as Butler can avoid his own hype, and it sounds like he is given his humility-based comments to NBA.com's Adam Fluck, he'll continue to evolve from draft-day heist to a Windy City building block.
66. Jonas Valanciunas, C, 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
Key Adjustment: Take Charge of the Locker Room
Jonas Valanciunas holds the key to the Toronto Raptors future. At least, they're right there for the taking if he can wrestle them away from Rudy Gay.
The 21-year-old and No. 5 pick of the 2011 draft looks like the type of player you can build a franchise around. He's long (7'0" tall with a 7'4" wingspan), strong and incredibly polished.
His rookie campaign might not look all that impressive, but remember that looks can be deceiving.
Had he played enough games to qualify, he would have had the fifth best true shooting percentage (61.9) in the league. He reached double digits during 14 of his last 15 games in 2012-13, averaging 14.8 points on 64.4 percent shooting from the field over that stretch.
Toronto's going to take the kid gloves off Valanciunas this year. Now the onus falls on the 7-footer to demand more than the 5.9 field-goal attempts he averaged last season (11th on the Raptors).
He plays alongside some ball-dominant scorers (notably Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan), but no one on this roster has a higher ceiling.
After battling his way to MVP honors at the Las Vegas Summer League, where he tallied 18.8 points and 10.0 rebounds in four games, his future looks incredibly right.
That future needs to begin now.
65. Kenneth Faried, PF, Denver Nuggets
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 11.5 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks, 18.5 PER
Key Adjustment: Developing Face-up Game
After two seasons in the league, the Morehead State product told the Lexington Herald-Leader's Tyler Lashbrook that he's still adjusting to the speed and strength of the NBA game.
But his goal for the 2013-14 season should be making the league adjust to his freakish combination of size, speed and strength.
He bolsters his physical gifts with a motor that doesn't stop. Just 6'8", he shouldn't be as successful on the glass as he is.
He's already someone that defenders have to account for on the offensive glass. He finished the 2012-13 campaign with the sixth highest offensive rebounding percentage in the NBA (13.2).
But outside of second-chance points and aerial assaults on the back end of lobs, his offensive game is limited.
While adding some low-post moves would help, finding a face-up game would bring even more riches to his resume. If he can find a handful of ways to get one step on his man, he'll keep the poster-printing industry alive.
64. Danilo Gallinari, SF/PF, Denver Nuggets
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.5 blocks, 16.7 PER
Key Adjustment: Ditching Long Twos
Amid the hyperactive offseason of the Denver Nuggets—George Karl, Masai Ujiri and Andre Iguodala out; Brian Shaw, Tim Connelly and Nate Robinson in—you may have missed Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post's report that Danilo Gallinari may have shed months off of his recovery timetable.
Lost to a torn ACL in 2012-13, Gallinari could help the Nuggets maintain relevance in Iguodala's absence.
At 6'10" with three-point range (career 36.9 percent) and serviceable ball control (career 1.6 turnovers per 36 minutes), he should be the face of the analytical movement. Everything about his game bodes well for offensive efficiency.
Yet he holds a slightly above average career 16.7 PER. Even worse, the same player that Mike D'Antoni once called "the best shooter I've ever seen," via Frank Isola of the Daily News, holds an unsightly 41.9 career field-goal percentage.
Gallinari does most of his damage away from the basket, but wanders far too often into the inefficient zone 16-to-23 feet. More than 17 percent of his field-goal attempts came from that range in 2012-13, of which he connected on just 34.7 percent.
He needs to trade those long twos for triples or deeper drives to the paint. Either way, he has moves to make in his future, and it sounds like he'll be making them sooner than expected.
63. Carlos Boozer, PF, Chicago Bulls
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.4 blocks, 17.1 PER
Key Adjustment: Living Inside
Carlos Boozer is going to get left on an island at the defensive end. There's really no way of getting around that.
The obvious weak link in Tom Thibodeau's otherwise impenetrable defensive wall, Boozer will get challenged at any and every opportunity.
But he could counter that strategy by putting his defenders on their own islands near the basket.
Over the years, he's been shifting further away from the cup. In 2006-07, he averaged 7.4 shots a night at the rim. Last season that figure fell to just 5.3.
But those point-blank chances, unsurprisingly, remain his most efficient weapon. He made 71.0 percent of his close-range shots in 2006-07 and 69.5 percent of those looks last season.
Rather than fighting for low-post position, he's been content drifting out to 16-plus feet. He's effective from out there (44.9 percent in 2012-13), but not nearly as potent.
With Joakim Noah flashing an improving mid-range game and Jimmy Butler having added a three-point stroke, it's time for Boozer to get back where he belongs.
62. DeMar DeRozan, SG, Toronto Raptors
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.3 blocks, 14.7 PER
Key Adjustment: Finding His Touch
DeMar DeRozan entered the league in 2009 as an athletic specimen without a jump shot.
Four years later, not much has changed.
He's still good for jaw-dropping highlights and unsavory shooting numbers (career 23.9 three-point percentage).
Now there have been some positive developments along the way. He scratched out a respectable 44.5 field-goal percentage last season without the benefit of real range, and his offensive production continues to rise.
But his shooting limits are an issue, particularly with the high-flying and sweet-shooting Terrence Ross waiting in the wings.
To his credit, DeRozan has recognized his biggest weakness. Per Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun, DeRozan's offseason plan has started and stopped with finding consistency from distance.
With Jonas Valanciunas primed for a breakout performance in the paint and Rudy Gay ready to pick up where he left off last season, DeRozan needs to find that touch quickly.
61. Larry Sanders, PF/C, Milwaukee Bucks
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 9.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.7 steals, 2.8 blocks, 18.7 PER
Key Adjustment: Demand More Touches
Larry Sanders' stock is on the rise, and the Milwaukee Bucks are feeling very bullish about their fourth-year big man.
After setting career highs across the board in 2012-13—including the second-most blocks in the NBA—Sanders was rewarded with a four-year, $44 million contract extension this summer.
Now that he'll be paid like a franchise cornerstone, (his raise won't kick in until next season), it's time for the rest of his stat sheet to reflect that status.
His offensive game is admittedly a work in progress. Last season was the first in which he shot above 50 percent from the field, but his 50.6 percent success rate still ranked outside of the league's top-25 qualified shooters.
Nearly 66 percent of his made field goals were either dunks and layups. He hit just 39.1 percent of his hook shots and only 30.9 percent of his shots away from the rim.
Still, this roster isn't exactly littered with scorers. And if one player's going to carry this franchise into the future it will be Sanders.
Some rough patches in a season with relatively low expectations are a far better alternative than seeing Milwaukee's $11 million man get overlooked and underused.
60. Monta Ellis, SG, Dallas Mavericks
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 19.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 2.1 steals, 0.4 blocks, 16.2 PER
Key Adjustment: Welcoming Help
If you ask Monta Ellis, he'll tell you he "have it all" when it comes to the game of basketball.
If you start digging through his stat sheet, though, you're bound to trip over the holes in his game.
He shot just 41.6 percent from the field in 2012-13. His career 16.8 PER suggests that he's a slightly above average player.
But if you go back further through his resume, you can see the makings of a star. There's his scorching 53.1 field-goal percentage in 2007-08 or those 25.5 points he averaged just two seasons later.
Ellis has some issues to correct—ball control, shot selection, defense—but some of them may work themselves out by way of his new Dallas Mavericks teammates. His on-ball responsibility should decrease with Jose Calderon; his scoring load will be lightened by the presence of Dirk Nowitzki.
If Ellis embraces a secondary role and drastically reduces his three-point looks (4.0 per game in 2012-13, 28.7 percent success rate), maybe this is the year that everything comes together.
Maybe Monta Ellis will really have it all.
59. Brandon Jennings, PG, Detroit Pistons
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.1 blocks, 16.1 PER
Key Adjustment: Limiting Scorer's Mentality
Brandon Jennings has never run a team like the Detroit Pistons squad he joined back in late July.
Frankly, few NBA point guards have.
With Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond filling new coach Mo Cheeks' frontcourt, Detroit's size is great ,and its spacing issues are greater.
Jennings, more of a scoring guard than a traditional floor general, must figure out how to maximize his team's size and minimize the damage of its perimeter weakness. For someone who's averaged better than 5.7 assists just once in his four-year career, it's a tall task to say the least.
He'll have help in the form of Cheeks, a four-time All-Star who spent 15 seasons as an NBA point guard.
But even through Jennings' crash courses in decision-making and court vision, he'll have to maintain some of that scoring identity. He's averaged 17.0 points during his career; his ability to put the ball in the basket is one of the things that made him so attractive to the Pistons.
Clearly he's still learning how to pick his spots—he's shot under 40 percent from the field in three of his four seasons—but he has to remember his own scoring strengths while also learning those of his new weapons.
58. Eric Gordon, SG, New Orleans Pelicans
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.0 points, 1.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.2 blocks, 15.4 PER
Key Adjustment: Taking Charge
Eric Gordon is set to enter his third season with the New Orleans Pelicans, but it feels like he's been there a decade.
Maybe all of his DNPs are to blame; he's missed 97 of the team's 148 games since arriving in 2011. Or maybe it was that agonizing period between Gordon signing a max offer sheet with the Phoenix Suns last summer, urging New Orleans not to match, and the franchise doing just that hours before the deadline.
All of that's in the past now and, Gordon hopes, water under the bridge. He told USA Today's Sam Amick he's pleased with the direction of the franchise and thinks the Pelicans should be in playoff contention.
Those should be welcome words for an understandably skeptical New Orleans fan base, but they don't mean a thing without action to support them.
There's a fear that the Pelicans won't have enough touches to appease all of their ball-dominant scorers. Gordon could erase a lot of them if he flashed the passing skills the stat sheet says he has (19.3 assist percentage or better in each of the last three seasons).
With a commitment to defense and, more importantly, to this franchise, Gordon could complete a remarkable cycle from nagging nuisance to model citizen.
57. Jeff Green, SF, Boston Celtics
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 12.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.8 blocks, 15.0 PER
Key Adjustment: Play Like a No. 1 Option
When Jeff Green goes into attack mode, he's an instant fan favorite.
He can live above the rim, giving defenders some unfortunate photogenic moments and shooters fits of self-doubt. He can solve the league's toughest defensive puzzles (see his 43-point outburst against the Miami Heat last season).
But through his first five healthy seasons—heart surgery cost him the entire 2011-12 campaign—the aggressive Green has been more myth than reality.
Some nights, he seems destined for stardom. Others, he looks best suited for the bench.
With the cap- (talent?) clearing moves that the Boston Celtics made this summer, aggression can no longer be an on-off switch for Green. He's the team's most complete offensive weapon, tallying points from the perimeter, at the rim and anywhere in between.
The increased exposure might be all that his game needs. In 17 starts for the Celtics in 2012-13, he averaged 20.1 points with an eye-popping .523/.519/.762 slash line.
Offensive chances won't be hard to come by for Green next season. He just needs to show a better sense of how to handle them.
56. Gordon Hayward, SG/SF, Utah Jazz
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks, 16.8 PER
Key Adjustment: Attacking Efficiently
Gordon Hayward was the youngest player to start at least 20 games for the Utah Jazz in 2012-13. In 2013-14, he could be the senior member of the opening lineup.
Just 23 years old, Hayward enters his fourth NBA season tasked with carrying the youthful Jazz through a potentially turbulent rebuilding phase. He has the most complete track record of Tyrone Corbin's projected starters, having averaged better than 29 minutes in each of the last two seasons.
A Swiss Army knife with a silky stroke from downtown (career 40.1 three-point percentage), Hayward will be leaned on to make something out of nothing when the offense breaks down.
He has the tools to handle that role. He makes good decisions with the basketball (career 1.4 turnovers per game) and can score from nearly anywhere on the court.
But he needs to get more selective on offense. He took more shots from the dreaded 16-23 foot zone (192) than he did at the rim (184). Even when he showed some aggression, he didn't always attack at the right time (58.7 percent shooting inside of three feet).
Corbin will have enough growing pains to monitor with the rest of his roster. Hayward has to perform like a seasoned vet, even if he wouldn't be considered as such on 29 other teams.
55. Anthony Davis, PF/C, New Orleans Pelicans
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.8 blocks, 21.7 PER
Key Adjustment: Thinking Inside-Out
Anthony Davis' debut season wasn't outstanding, but it wasn't disastrous either. More than anything, it felt disappointing, although that emotion arose more from the 18 games he missed rather than the 64 that he played.
Assuming New Orleans has pulled back the caution flag—a relatively safe assumption given the win-now moves the Pelicans made this summer—it's time to see whether Davis can live up to his predraft buzz.
Defensively, he's already impressing.
His per 36 minutes marks of 10.2 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 1.5 steals would put him in exclusive company if they held up for a full 48 minutes. In the last 10 seasons, only six players have averaged at least 1.5 blocks and 1.5 steals. Only three of those players have done so while also corraling at least 10 boards a night.
Offensively, he has a ways to go.
His 51.6 field-goal percentage was good, but it could have been better. He finished 63.5 percent of his shots inside of 10 feet and only 29.4 percent of his looks from beyond.
A point guard in the early stages of his playing days, he has perimeter skills he's itching to show off on the game's biggest stage. That time will come, but for now, an inside-out approach would do wonders for his stat sheet and New Orleans' playoff goals.
54. Andre Drummond, C, 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
Key Adjustment: Find One Offensive Weapon
The way Andre Drummond was widely seen as a boom-or-bust prospect (ESPN Insider subscription required) leading up to the 2012 draft, he seemed destined for some D-League seasoning in his rookie year.
But Drummond more than held his ground as a member of the big league Detroit Pistons in 2012-13 (7.9 points and 7.6 rebounds in just 20.7 minutes a night). He then spent his summer mopping the floor with the prospects and roster hopefuls at the Orlando Pro Summer League (15.5 points and 14.8 boards).
What's really scary for opposing bigs, though, is the fact that his sizzling summer league numbers are strikingly similar to his 2012-13 per 36 minutes averages (13.8 points and 13.2 rebounds).
The only thing holding him back from a more dominant rookie campaign was the short leash that the Pistons kept him on. Those 20.7 minutes were just the eighth most logged by any player on Detroit's roster last season and only the 13th most of Drummond's rookie class.
If it sounds criminal, that's because it was. Drummond bullied his way to a 21.6 PER and 61.0 effective field-goal percentage. His 21.6 PER bettered the marks of All-NBA centers Marc Gasol (19.5) and Dwight Howard (19.4). That 61.0 eFG% would have placed him second in the league had he qualified for the category.
And he managed all of that as a 19-year-old with no semblance of a post game. Now that he's working with new Pistons assistant Rasheed Wallace on developing just that, via Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News, it's a safe bet he'll be booming with the big boys for years to come.
53. Nikola Pekovic, C, Minnesota Timberwolves
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.8 blocks, 20.2 PER
Key Adjustment: Cleaning the Defensive Glass
Nikola Pekovic can get anywhere in the paint that he wants.
A throwback bruiser transplanted into today's NBA, he understands how to use his 290-pound frame to push defenders off the low block or punish players with bone-rattling screens.
In the offensive post, that brute strength has been one of his best assets. Combined with nimble footwork and a soft shooting touch, it's helped the Montenegrin nail 52.0 percent from the field or better in two of his three NBA seasons.
He's also made the most of it on the offensive glass. His 13.0 offensive rebounding percentage ranked ninth last season, and he led the way with a 15.8 mark in 2011-12.
But he's failed to find that same rebounding success at the opposite end of the floor.
With his size and his motor, he should be challenging for a rebounding crown. But that won't happen until he shows the same intensity on the defensive glass that he does at the offensive end.
52. Greg Monroe, PF/C, Detroit Pistons
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.0 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.7 blocks, 19.5 PER
Key Adjustment: Initiating the Offense
Greg Monroe has shown a lot over the course of his first three NBA seasons, but the question for Detroit Pistons fans is: how much room he has left to grow?
His strengths have become pretty apparent. He's a workhorse on the boards (career 10.4 rebounds per 36 minutes), a scoring threat with his back-to-the basket and one of the game's best passing bigs.
His weaknesses, though, are just as clear. He struggles to defend anywhere along the perimeter—something he'll have to do if Andre Drummond gets his anticipated minutes boost—and has limited scoring range (32.3 percent from outside of three feet in 2012-13).
Given the oversized frontcourt that Mo Cheeks will employ, Monroe's limitations are a major cause for concern. But his high basketball IQ and ability to distribute the rock will help solve some of Detroit's spacing issues.
If he can pose enough of a scoring threat outside of the restricted area—he did shoot 42.9 percent from 16-to-23 feet in 2011-12—he could elevate the effectiveness of his high-flying teammates Drummond and Josh Smith with timely feeds. When defenses overcommit to the interior, Monroe can look to the perimeter where he'll find a trio of new marksmen in Brandon Jennings and rookies Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Luigi Datome.
It'll take a leap of faith to buy this stock, but that seems to be the Pistons' M.O. of late.
51. Paul Millsap, PF, Atlanta Hawks
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.0 blocks, 19.8 PER
Key Adjustment: Expanding His Range
Paul Millsap found a perfect partner in the Atlanta Hawks this summer. Both parties have enjoyed moderate success in recent history, and the mainstream audience hasn't bothered to check in on either one.
His style is similar to Kenneth Faried's, only a more complete, polished version.
He plays with a lot of energy, can shimmy his way to buckets from in close and remains an offensive threat away from the basket.
But the one thing missing from his game, something he's attempting to feature more, is an outside shot.
He attempted 20 threes over his first four seasons combined, then fired off 23 attempts in 2010-11. That number climbed to 31 in 2011-12, then peaked with last season's 39.
With a low-post counterpart in Atlanta (Al Horford) who's just as potent as the one he paired with for the Utah Jazz (Al Jefferson), Millsap should continue building this area of his game.
He's hit 31.2 percent of his attempts over the last three seasons, so this experiment is far from being conclusive. He could still shoot his way into Josh Smith infamy with his new fans, but some well-timed triples would give Horford more room in the post and create bigger driving lanes for Jeff Teague and Lou Williams.
50. Kemba Walker, PG, Charlotte Bobcats
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.7 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.4 blocks, 18.8 PER
Key Adjustment: Shortening Drives
It's hard making noise when you suit up for the hapless Charlotte Bobcats.
But Kemba Walker caught enough attention during his breakout 2012-13 campaign, garnering the 11th most votes for the Most Improved Player Award.
A scoring guard by nature, he's still adjusting to life as an NBA signal caller. His ball control isn't reckless (2.4 turnovers per game in 2012-13), but it's a bit worrisome when paired alongside his limited court vision.
Even with the arrival of Al Jefferson, Charlotte's incredibly thin on reliable scoring options. Walker could ease his teammates into better scoring position with his passing, but the fact remains that he's at his best when he's looking for his own shot.
His true shooting percentage climbed more than five points from his rookie season (51.7 up from 46.4), which is an impressive hike considering he's still struggling from three-point range (32.2 percent). He's also a below average shooter at the rim (54.8 percent) where his 6'1" frame makes it difficult to score among the trees in the middle.
But Walker's an above average finisher from the dreaded 16-to-23 foot range (43.8 percent) and right at the league average from 10-to-15 feet (41.2 percent). When he cuts off his drives before getting into the paint, his quick step gives him a clean look at the basket before the rim protectors can get out to help challenge the shot.
Walker won't add too many attempts from these inefficient ranges, but it's a strength he should look to exploit in limited doses.
49. J.R. Smith, SG, New York Knicks
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.3 blocks, 17.6 PER
Key Adjustment: Attack, Attack, Attack
No offense to Andrea Bargnani, but he wasn't the second scorer that Carmelo Anthony was looking for this summer.
But help could still be on the way; it just won't be coming from outside of the New York Knicks.
J.R. Smith, the Sixth Man of the Year in 2012-13, could be that lethal second option if he fights the urge to settle for long jumpers and consistently attacks the basket instead.
Aggression has always been the key to Smith's effectiveness, but he hasn't always maintained that mentality. He's attempted at least 4.0 free throws per 36 minutes in four of his nine NBA seasons. And wouldn't you know, those four seasons have also been his best in terms of player efficiency rating.
When Smith balances his three-point shooting (career 36.7 percent) with relentless drives to the basket, he becomes almost unguardable.
He had double-digit free-throw attempts during five games in 2012-13. Over those five games, he averaged 28.0 points on 51.2 percent shooting from the field. When Smith was held without a trip to the charity stripe—which happened 11 different times—he averaged 15.0 points on 42.0 percent shooting.
He's not the kind of sniper that can spend prolonged stretches on the perimeter. If that's his plan for 2013-14, then Anthony's right; he will need another scorer for the Knicks to hold even the faintest championship hopes.
48. Nicolas Batum, SF, Portland Trail Blazers
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.1 blocks, 15.7 PER
Key Adjustment: Attention to Detail
If you were building the ideal NBA player, you might wind up with something looking a lot like Portland Trail Blazers' wing Nicolas Batum.
He has good size (6'8"), length (7'4" wingspan), speed and athleticism. He can shoot it from deep (career 37.2 three-point percentage), orchestrate an offense, win rebounding battles and defend multiple positions.
But if you were debating the best player in today's NBA, Batum's name may never enter the discussion.
Despite his natural gifts and a high basketball IQ, he's been hovering around mediocrity throughout his five-year career.
Part of the problem is the way he's used in Portland. Nearly 47 percent of his career field-goal attempts have from beyond the arc. It's one thing to take advantage of his shooting talents, but quite another to restrict his versatility by employing him solely as a "3 and D" wing.
But some of the issues come from Batum himself. He'll be offensively aggressive and a defensive hound one night, then overly passive and slow in his rotations the next.
If he brought the good Batum to the floor every night, the Blazers could be a postseason lock and championship sleeper.
47. Josh Smith, SF/PF, Detroit Pistons
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.8 blocks, 17.7 PER
Key Adjustment: Overwhelming Opposing Wings
The key adjustment for Josh Smith to make is the same as its always been: getting rid of long twos.
Unfortunately, that's never going to happen. He's been taking, and missing, those shots for nine seasons now; they're definitely here to stay. They'll likely get even worse.
Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press reported that Smith has been working with new Detroit Pistons coach Rasheed Wallace this summer. That should be good news; Wallace was a master at balancing his offense inside and out.
But Smith's quote to Farrell sapped any optimism before it could even start: "I'm trying to be more consistent on my mid-range and long-range jumper."
Unless you're buying Smith's career 28.3 three-point percentage as a nine-year mirage, this is a troubling start to what could be an intriguing relationship.
Moving Smith out on the wing gives the Pistons a body to throw at the Eastern Conference's elite scoring wings. When Smith played at the 3 last season, he held opponents to a minuscule 8.9 PER. When he slid down to the 4, that number jumped all the way to 17.3. At the opposite end, he'd have an advantage almost every night in the post.
But he's rarely used that advantage in the past, and that was before he was paired with Detroit's supersized frontcourt.
46. Kawhi Leonard, SF, San Antonio Spurs
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 11.9 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.6 blocks, 16.4 PER
Key Adjustment: Attack the Mid-range
The San Antonio Spurs saw something they really liked while monitoring Kawhi Leonard's two-year stay at San Diego State. They liked Leonard to the point that they were willing to deal Gregg Popovich's favorite player, George Hill, to acquire him.
No disrespect to Hill, but it's becoming more apparent why the Spurs pulled the trigger.
Still 22 years old, Leonard already looks like he has the NBA game figured out.
Scouts said he couldn't shoot coming out of college; NBADraft.net's Borko Popic even compared Leonard to one-trick defender Luc Mbah a Moute. If Leonard's not a consistent weapon, I'd love to hear who is. He's been remarkably steady over his first two seasons, shooting at least 49.3 percent from the field and 37.4 percent from downtown.
His defense has been as good as advertised, and his glasswork has probably even been better (career 7.2 boards per 36 minutes).
Leonard's a highly efficient offensive player—he lives in the corners and at the rim—but his game could use a little more variety. When he ventured into the mid-range, he was extremely effective (47 percent from 3-to-23 feet from the basket).
Choosing efficient offensive zones is far from being a weakness, but if he expanded his areas of attack just a bit, he could keep defenders guessing even more.
45. Rudy Gay, SF, Toronto Raptors
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.7 blocks, 15.6 PER
Key Adjustment: Seeing Clearly
It's been a long time—OK maybe never—since Rudy Gay was held in high regard by the analytics crowd. A ball-dominant scorer with declining shooting marks (41.6/32.3 in 2012-13) just isn't quite the type of player who shines in advanced stat sheets.
But there's hope that Gay could be on the verge of converting his detractors.
For starters, there's a great chance that Gay's shooting woes are the source of a problem so simple, none of us would have thought of it. The guy couldn't see, or at least he had "terrible" vision problems as he described them to SLAM Magazine's Adam Figman.
He's since hit the operating table to address that issue.
He also spent part of his summer fine-tuning his post game with Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon. His post work has always been an effective (64.5 percent on hook shots in 2012-13) but underused aspect of his game. With his size (6'9") and length (7'3" wingspan), that's a weapon he should go to early and often.
His shot selection has plenty of room for improvement—his shot disparity was nearly an even split last season—but a better focus (literally) could warrant all those three-point attempts.
Gay enters the season with as much criticism as anyone with a career 18.0 ppg scoring average. Those pundits may have a hard time recognizing him if he carries his offseason additions into next season.
44. Paul Pierce, SF, Brooklyn Nets
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.4 blocks, 19.1 PER
Key Adjustment: Establishing Residency
Last season, the Brooklyn Nets changed their address. This year, they've changed their team.
OK, not everyone has left the ranks, but Brooklyn's training camp might feel more like Midnight Madness given all of the new faces in the locker room.
Finding chemistry is a must to make Mikhail Prokhorov's nine-figure investment in this revamped roster worth it.
In the midst of coming together, though, each individual player must find his niche.
For Paul Pierce, a 15-year veteran and, up until now, a Boston Celtics lifer, he should start pining for a leadership role. After all, if it wasn't for him, that blockbuster trade this summer probably doesn't happen.
His other Celtics-turned-Nets will find their own comfort zones. Kevin Garnett gives this team a fiery competitive edge; Jason Terry adds unabashed confidence.
But Pierce needs to mark his place high on the team's pecking order early.
On the court, he's someone who can still carry an offense for stretches. Off the floor, he has 15 years of basketball wisdom to share with his new teammates.
43. Al Jefferson, C, Charlotte Bobcats
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.1 blocks, 20.9 PER
Key Adjustment: Getting Back on the Offensive Glass
Al Jefferson might only play one end of the floor, but he's still the most talented player that the Charlotte Bobcats have.
With a wide array of post moves and buttery soft touch around the basket, Jefferson's one of the few players in today's game that can consistently create offense out of post isolations. He's averaged 17 points or better in each of the last six seasons, and his field-goal percentage has held steady between 49.2 and 50.0 throughout that stretch.
His passing game is improving, and he's avoided the turnover issues (1.3 per game in 2012-13) that have plagued some of his peers at the center spot.
But he's also lost what used to be one of his strongest assets: offensive rebounds.
He had a nose for the offensive glass even the first year after making his preps-to-pros leap in 2004. Still a teenager when he started his career, he battled his way to 4.1 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes in 2004-05.
But he's yet to match that figure since. In fact, he's seen his offensive rebounding percentage dip in five of the least six seasons, spiraling to a career-worst 7.0 in 2012-13.
He'll have ample opportunity to rediscover that strength in 2013-14; Charlotte has been the league's worst shooting team in each of the last two seasons.
42. Serge Ibaka, PF, Oklahoma City Thunder
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 13.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.4 steals, 3.0 blocks, 19.4 PER
Key Adjustment: More Time in the Paint
Serge Ibaka's transformation from a shot-blocking phenom to an across-the-board contributor has been a sight to behold.
Since his rookie campaign of 2009-10, he's more than doubled his scoring average, added four points to his field-goal percentage (57.3 up from 54.3), went from a mediocre 15.2 PER to a respectable 19.4 mark and, as of last season, even added a long ball to his offensive repertoire (35.1 three-point percentage).
But a polished post game still eludes the Oklahoma City Thunder star.
As a rookie, 45.9 percent of his field-goal attempts came right at the rim. By 2012-13, that number had dropped to just 33.3.
Having to share the frontcourt with the space-killing Kendrick Perkins hasn't helped matters. And now that Kevin Durant has followed LeBron James' lead to the low block, Ibaka's value as a stretch 4 is increasing.
But Durant's move to the post proves that there are interior offensive chances in this offense. In the right matchup, Ibaka should be calling for more of those low-post touches.
He has the springs to shoot over the top of his defender and the strength to fight through contact.
His post moves are raw and, against a savvy defender, he's better off taking aim from the outside. But the league's transition to smaller, perimeter-oriented power forwards has given Ibaka a size/strength advantage he should exploit more often.
41. Mike Conley, PG, Memphis Grizzlies
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.6 points, 2.8 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 2.2 steals, 0.3 blocks, 18.3 PER
Key Adjustment: Becoming More Selfish
The 2013 Western Conference Finals may have felt a little empty without some familiar faces (Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers), but the series did give casual fans a long overdue introduction to Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley.
While he didn't put his best foot forward in those four games (15.3 points on 38.3 percent shooting), it did give broadcasters the chance to highlight his playoff breakthrough in the earlier rounds.
He opened the postseason with 17.3 points and 8.3 assists in the Grizzlies' six-game defeat of the Los Angeles Clippers. The following round, he helped Memphis dispatch Oklahoma City in only five games, leading the charge with his stat-sheet-filling 18.0 points, 6.8 assists, 6.6 rebounds and 2.2 steals.
With the grit-and-grind approach of his teammates, a mindset Conley embraces through suffocating defense, the door is open for a premier scoring threat to emerge.
Zach Randolph has a more impressive track record, but he's 32 years old and coming off the two-worst scoring seasons per 36 minutes (15.9 in 2011-12, 16.1 last season) of his career.
Conley, on the other hand, is just 25 and riding a three-year stretch of PER improvement.
With his shooting ability (career .440/.375/.788 slash) and quickness, he should be handling more of the offensive duties for this defensive powerhouse.
40. Jrue Holiday, PG, New Orleans Pelicans
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.4 blocks, 16.7 PER
Key Adjustment: Working Off the Ball
When the Philadelphia 76ers cut ties with former face of the franchise Andre Iguodala last season and got nothing more than an absent Andrew Bynum and a past-his-prime Jason Richardson in return, Jrue Holiday had to put the team on his shoulders.
While the 34-win 76ers finished four games out of the playoff picture, Holiday himself had a successful season. He set career marks in points, assists, rebounds and PER, while seeing just a mild uptick in his turnover percentage (17.3, career 16.9) despite a dramatic climb in his usage rate (26.3, career 22.3).
Having since moved on to the New Orleans Pelicans, Holiday will struggle to match most of his 2012-13 numbers. Flanked by ball-dominant scorers Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans, and with rising star Anthony Davis manning the middle, Holiday will be lucky if he finds anything close to that career usage rate.
But he could send his efficiency rating soaring.
Cynics say the Pelicans won't have enough touches to go around, but a glass-half-full approach says that only means this team has plenty of playmakers. With his size (6'4" 205 lbs), strength and athleticism combined with the passing skills of Gordon and Evans, Holiday could do a lot of damage as an off-ball slasher.
39. Ty Lawson, PG, Denver Nuggets
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.1 blocks, 17.9 PER
Key Adjustment: Finding Efficiency in Inefficient Zones
The Denver Nuggets will either be really good again next season or really bad. I just don't see a lot of middle ground with this team.
One player who won't be sending Nuggets fans on a roller coaster ride is fifth-year point guard Ty Lawson. His career arc has been more of a steady trip up an escalator, with improvements in scoring and assists in each of the last three seasons.
Lightning quick off the dribble, he can hit his next gear in transition or in a half-court set. Just 5'11", though, he can get lost in the forest under the basket. When McGee and Kenneth Faried share the floor, Denver's interior is about as congested as it gets.
Lawson's not the kind of shooter that can live beyond the arc (36.6 three-point percentage in 2012-13), but he is a steady contributor just steps inside of it (41.6 percent from 16-to-23 feet).
He shouldn't force this inefficient weapon, but it's still a valuable piece of his arsenal.
38. David Lee, PF, Golden State Warriors
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.5 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.3 blocks, 19.2 PER
Key Adjustment: Embracing his Passer's Mentality
David Lee gave the Golden State Warriors their first All-Star of the 2000s last season, yet he found himself at the center of trade talks over the summer.
With Harrison Barnes' strong playoff showing and $44 million left on the 30-year-old Lee's contract, the question on everyone's mind was whether Golden State could take the next step with Lee still on the roster.
Only time will tell, but two offseason developments set the stage for the affirmative.
For starters, Golden State acquired do-it-all swingman Andre Iguodala in a three-team sign-and-trade. For a team thin on slashers and perimeter defenders, Iguodala will fill both those needs.
Secondly, Andrew Bogut told the Associated Press that he's "100 percent" healthy and will enter the 2013-14 season with no limitations. He'll also be working without a contract beyond next season, meaning he could be a scary combination of health and motivation.
The Warriors have strengthened their roster, and Lee's the perfect player to help maximize this added talent. He can score when needed, but he'll be at his best when he's spotting the shooters and slashers all around him.
His scoring load will be at its lightest since he landed in the Bay during 2010, but he should be looking at a career year in assists.
37. DeMarcus Cousins, PF/C, Sacramento Kings
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.1 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.7 blocks, 20.2 PER
Key Adjustment: Inward-Bound
Once hoops heads got out of their Dwightmare this summer, DeMarcus Cousins started driving discussions.
Is he a max-contract player or not? Could the Sacramento Kings risk investing major money in a 23-year-old hot head (league-high 17 technical fouls in 2012-13)? Would letting someone with his size (6'11", 270 lbs) and skill hit free agency be a worse gamble?
To start earning this new paycheck, Cousins has to focus on improving his offensive output. The Kings did not shell out the cash for his defensive effort.
He's not an efficient scorer (career 44.8 percent from the field), but he gets enough touches (28.1 usage rate) to keep the scoreboard moving.
If he'd just move closer to the basket, that scoreboard would look more like a running clock—non-stop motion. But he's been far too content to fire from mid-range, despite hitting just 32.9 percent outside of 10 feet.
As for anything with Cousins, though, he'll only be as good as he allows himself to be.
36. Tyson Chandler, C, New York Knicks
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 10.4 points, 10.7 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.1 blocks, 18.9 PER
Key Adjustment: Treat Passes Like Tap Outs
Tyson Chandler's value to the New York Knicks can be hard to quantify.
Sure, he had the highest field-goal percentage (63.8), grabbed the most rebounds and blocked the most shots of anyone on the roster, but his impact often goes beyond the stat sheet.
He's such a highly regarded defender—three-time All-Defensive selection and the Defensive Player of the Year in 2011-12—that he'll alter shots by simply being out on the floor. Driving lanes just don't look as appealing with the 7'1" center lurking near the end of them.
And his rebounding impact is even stronger than it seems. As Nate Taylor of The New York Times described, Chandler has mastered the art of the tap out. If he doesn't feel he can control a rebound, he'll simply tap the ball to a teammate on the perimeter who can.
Whether Chandler gets credited for that rebound depends on the scorekeeper's feeling of whether Chandler made a "clean, direct" tap to his teammate.
But there's something behind this strategy that could be a gold mine for Chandler. Or rather an underutilized part of his game. He has court vision, even if his career 0.8 assists per game says otherwise.
To be able to withstand contact, leap off the ground and still spot a teammate to tap these rebounds to has become an art for Chandler. Imagine the masterpieces he could work up when he's stationary.
35. Kevin Garnett, PF/C, Brooklyn Nets
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.9 blocks, 19.2 PER
Key Adjustment: Rebounds Over Blocks
Kevin Garnett's to-do list for his debut season with the Brooklyn Nets should be a quick read: rebound.
His new team has all other areas pretty well covered. There are an abundance of scorers, a top-flight setup artist (Deron Williams), a premier perimeter stopper (Andrei Kirilenko) and an intimidating rim protector (Brook Lopez).
As far as glass cleaners, though, the cupboard is barren outside of one-trick Windex man Reggie Evans.
Garnett's rebounding rate has slipped a little over the years (15.5 percent in 2012-13), but he can still track down errant shots when given the opportunity (13.7 rebounds per game in 2013 postseason).
The problem for Garnett in recent seasons was that he had to guard the rim. If he couldn't change the path of an opposing driver, that player was looking at an easy bucket.
But once he moved to stop penetration, he'd sacrifice rebounding position. At one time, he could give up real estate on the ground and get it back in the air.
That's no longer the case. He's 37 years old with 18 years of NBA damage on his body.
But he's also out of the protection industry.
With Lopez handling the shot-blocking duties and Garnett on the boards, Brooklyn's twin towers should be a productive pair.
34. David West, PF, Indiana Pacers
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.9 blocks, 20.1 PER
Key Adjustment: Turning Up the Tempo
Some teams spend every offseason searching for their real identities.
That's not the case for the Indiana Pacers. They know who they are—a gritty, physical collection of some of the league's best defenders.
Indiana plays a slow offensive game (90.2 pace, 25th in the NBA). The Pacers are in no need to hurry; their defense is so hard to break down, that they don't need a lot of points to win games.
But it'd be nice to see a little more variety in their style. The truly elite teams can bully opponents in any brand of basketball.
Indiana has the athletes to get out in the open floor, but finished 2012-13 with just the 21st most fastbreak points (10.9 per game) via TeamRankings.com.
One player who could help the Pacers turn up the tempo is power forward David West. He's a relentless worker on the defensive glass (18.8 defensive rebounding percentage) and a master of the outlet pass.
By pushing the pace, the Pacers can better mask Paul George's turnover woes and George Hill's limited court vision. And if West is throwing long bombs to start the break, he and Roy Hibbert will already be in position to challenge any counterattacks.
33. Pau Gasol, PF/C, Los Angeles Lakers
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 13.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.2 blocks, 16.7 PER
Key Adjustment: Getting Back on the Block
Pau Gasol needed a change this summer. Whether that meant coach Mike D'Antoni leaving the Los Angeles Lakers or Dwight Howard taking his talents elsewhere, something had to give.
Luckily it did.
D'Antoni's still around, but Howard has long ago vacated the Hollywood Hills for the Houston Rockets. Taking his place is 10-year veteran Chris Kaman, someone who, unlike Howard, can be an effective offensive player away from the basket.
It's a major loss in terms of talent, but for Gasol, it's the promise of hope. Hope that he can return to being the player he was before last season's disaster, a key piece of a championship team and not the scapegoat of a near-lottery club.
To realize that change, Gasol needs to race down to the low block. Immediately.
He's such a gifted scorer in the post (68.0 percent shooting at the rim, 51.8 percent on hook shots in 2012-13) with the court vision to spot open scorers from all angles.
D'Antoni might not be keen on low-post play, but he'll have to feature it as long as Kobe Bryant's rehabbing his torn Achilles.
32. Dirk Nowitzki, PF, Dallas Mavericks
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.7 blocks, 19.8 PER
Key Adjustment: Back on the Attack
But it's too early to send Nowitzki out to pasture. The 35-year-old has some good basketball left in him.
Figuring out what kind of good basketball that will be is anyone's guess, though.
Can he still carry a franchise to anything beyond a first-round exit? It depends on what his body will allow.
When he led the Dallas Mavericks to their first championship in franchise history during 2011, Nowitzki was a scoring threat from everywhere on the floor. He pulled defenders out to the perimeter with a 39.3 three-point percentage, then punished them later for straying too far from the basket.
Nearly 28 percent of his field-goal attempts came within 10 feet of the basket during that championship season. That number fell to 21.3 in 2011-12 and bottomed out at last season's 14.6.
Have those drives to the basket been stripped away because of his health? He did have arthroscopic knee surgery in Oct. 2012.
Or has Father Time simply reduced him to being a floor spacer lacking explosiveness?
That answer holds the key to any playoff hopes that the Mavericks hold.
31. Luol Deng, SF, Chicago Bulls
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.4 blocks, 15.1 PER
Key Adjustment: Getting More Selective
It's hard to say anything negative about what Luol Deng did for the Chicago Bulls last season.
For the second time in as many years, he led the league in minutes per game (38.7). With Derrick Rose out of action, Deng took on his highest usage rate since 2009-10 (21.9) and still handled Chicago's toughest defensive assignment on a nightly basis.
Deng embodies what this franchise is about. He battles each and every possession, literally giving the organization everything his body can give.
He tried becoming Chicago's No. 1 offensive option, despite eight seasons of stat sheets saying he's not that kind of player. Forced to create more of his own scoring chances, Deng's limited handles were exposed. He took nearly as many long twos (309 shots from 16-to-23 feet) as he did shots at the rim (352).
Assuming Rose returns with a clean bill of health, Deng should ease back into his slashing, corner-shooting role.
After all, he deserves a break.
30. Zach Randolph, PF, Memphis Grizzlies
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 15.4 points, 11.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.4 blocks, 17.9 PER
Key Adjustment: Drifting Inward
The Memphis Grizzlies, a bottom-third three-point shooting team for four years running, have had to get creative in manufacturing offensive spacing.
With no real marksmen to hold defenders in check on the perimeter, the Grizzlies have used the mid-range games of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol to clear whatever room they could around the basket.
Those spacing issues should get better next season. Mike Miller and his 40.6 career three-point percentage, 20th in NBA history, is back in Memphis after a five-year trip that included stops in Minnesota, Washington and Miami.
If the Grizzlies can keep defenders a little more honest outside, then Randolph should take his offensive talents further inside.
Standing 6'9" and tipping the scales at 260 pounds, Randolph has the size and strength to be a low-post bully. He's also incredibly agile, light on his feet and soft with his release.
But he's lost nearly six percentage points at the rim over the last two seasons (58.5, down from 64.0 in 2010-11). Since defenses can no longer be so quick to collapse on his catches, look for Randolph to recoup that loss and then some in 2013-14.
29. Damian Lillard, PG, Portland Trail Blazers
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 19.0 points, 3.1 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.2 blocks, 16.4 PER
Key Adjustment: Addition By Subtraction
Damian Lillard started last summer as the No. 6 overall selection and will enter this one as the proud owner of the 2012-13 Rookie of the Year award.
The sophomore challenge for Lillard will be maintaining his impact in a smaller, more efficient role.
He had no insurance last season, no safety net typically extended to rookies. The Portland Trail Blazers gave him the second highest workload in the league (38.6 minutes per game) as coach Terry Stotts simply had no other options to go to. Blazers reserves had the fewest points (18.5) and second lowest field goal percentage (39.9) of any second team, via HoopsStats.com.
The front office made sure that weakness was addressed this offseason. Veterans Dorell Wright and Mo Williams, along with up-and-comers Thomas Robinson, C.J. McCollum and Allen Crabbe were brought in to turn this liability into an asset.
Now Lillard needs to do his part and make the most of these arrivals. He has more scorers around him, so that assist total should go up and his shot attempts (15.7 from the field, 6.1 from three per game) should come down.
A refreshed, more selective Lillard could surprise the hoops world for the second straight season.
28. Roy Hibbert, C, Indiana Pacers
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 11.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.5 steals, 2.6 blocks, 17.3 PER
Key Adjustment: Patrolling the Paint
Roy Hibbert has three more seasons on the four-year, $58 contract signed with the Indiana Pacers last summer, but he's already earned the bulk of that cash.
The 7'2", 280-pound anchor of the league's best defense—the Pacers led the league with a 99.8 defensive rating in 2012-13—he gives this club its identity. He can take an elite interior scorer out of the game or stop sensational slashers at the basket.
But it's time for Hibbert to become one of those elite scorers himself.
He's done it in stretches before. In 19 playoff games, Hibbert shredded three different frontcourts with 17.0 points on 51.1 percent shooting.
Over the course of his career, though, he has just an 11.3 scoring average and a 47.3 field-goal percentage. He's finished at least 60 percent of his chances at the rim in only one of his five seasons (2010-11, 62.9).
Paul George could use a second scorer to shed some of his defensive attention. The 33-year-old David West can't play that role forever.
27. Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 19.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.4 steals, 2.1 blocks, 24.7 PER
Key Adjustment: Tighten Defensive Focus
Even with all of the new weapons around him, Brook Lopez shouldn't be fighting for touches in 2013-14.
His offensive game is still expanding, but he's already one of the NBA's best scoring bigs. Having a 7-footer with good footwork, range out to 20 feet and the handles to attack the basket certainly has its benefits.
Lopez had the 10th highest scoring average in the league last season and the best mark among all true centers, unless you're willing to place that label on LaMarcus Aldridge.
But there are still holes in his game, which shouldn't be a surprise considering he's only 25.
His rebounding remains his biggest problem area, but the Nets have managed to work around that issue. Brooklyn finished tied for the second best rebounding differential in 2012-13 at plus-3.6.
One area that's harder to hide is Lopez's defense. While it is improving—his 105 defensive rating last season was the best of his career—he still struggles at times containing his man.
Kevin Garnett can handle the toughest post assignment in 2013-14, but Lopez will have to pick up those matches against teams that employ those trendy stretch 4s.
26. Blake Griffin, PF, Los Angeles Clippers
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.6 blocks, 22.4 PER
Key Adjustment: Facing the Basket
Blake Griffin has plenty of room to grow, but he doesn't deserve all of the criticism he gets.
Griffin was one of two players that averaged at least 18 points, eight rebounds, three assists and one steal last season. The other was LeBron James.
Now, that's not to suggest that Griffin is in the same class as James. No one is right now. But he is a uniquely talented 24-year-old with plenty of time to round out his game.
One of the biggest knocks on Griffin—right along with his 61.1 percent career free-throw shooting—is his undeveloped post game. It's better than he's given credit for, but still not quite a reliable weapon.
But the area he really needs to expand is his face-up game. He spent last summer sandwiching shooting sessions around arthroscopic knee surgery. After hitting just 33.3 percent of his attempts outside 10 feet in 2012-13, he was no doubt back in the lab this summer.
He needs that mid-range jumper to open up the rest of his offense. Even his biggest critics will concede that he's one of the league's premier athletes. And his court vision shows up right on the stat sheet.
Raising Griffin's effectiveness in the post sounds good, but I'd rather see him away from the basket where he can use his quickness and explosiveness to his advantage.
25. Andre Iguodala, SG/SF, Golden State Warriors
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 13.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.7 blocks, 15.2 PER
Key Adjustment: Making the Most of Driving Lanes
Andre Iguodala's versatile skills would fit with any roster, but he seems to have found his ideal match with the Golden State Warriors.
Golden State needed someone capable of moving Stephen Curry off the ball, keeping Klay Thompson's legs fresh by taking over the toughest defensive assignments and meshing with the franchise's team-first attitude.
Iguodala checks off all three boxes, and that fails to mention his impact as a scorer and rebounder.
But the Warriors offer Iguodala similar appeal. With three-point shooters raining triples from everywhere and a pair of willing passers near the basket, Iguodala's driving and slashing game could soar to new heights.
He'll have a number of different avenues to get to the cup, but he needs to be more assertive about exploiting them.
In 2012-13, Iguodala attempted more shots from beyond the arc (316) than he did at the rim (291). For someone with his explosiveness—and, more importantly, a mediocre 32.9 career three-point percentage—those are a lot of missed chances.
24. Chris Bosh, PF/C, Miami Heat
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.4 blocks, 20.0 PER
Key Adjustment: Dial Back the Triples
Chris Bosh's numbers have been in a tailspin since he joined the Miami Heat in the summer of 2010.
He'd be a second option on almost any other roster—even the primary focus for a handful of teams—but alongside LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, Bosh is an obvious No. 3.
Stat sheets aside, Bosh remains a top-25 talent. When he attempted at least 15 shots in 2012-13—a workload that 22 players averaged, but Bosh did just 14 times—he was good for 25 points on 61.7 percent shooting.
In other words, he's still an elite scorer, it's just that his responsibilities have changed.
Playing in Erik Spoelstra's "position-less" system, Bosh's primary tasks are protecting the rim and maintaining optimal spacing. But he doesn't need to venture beyond the three-point line to spread the floor.
Working from the mid-range (16-to-23 feet), he was a 49.4 percent shooter in 2012-13, well above the league average of 38.4. When he strayed past the arc, though, his success rate fell to just 28.8 percent.
23. John Wall, PG, Washington Wizards
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.8 blocks, 20.8 PER
Key Adjustment: Changing the Game at Both Ends
After months of debating in the public forum, the Washington Wizards answered the biggest question surrounding John Wall.
He is a max contract player, in their opinion at least. The ink's still drying on his five-year, $80 million extension, but the expectations for the former Kentucky star changed the moment his pen hit the paper.
The Wizards aren't championship contenders yet, but they're spending like they have playoff hopes. Via HoopsHype.com, Washington has the 13th highest payroll for 2013-14 at a little more than $64 million. And that figure doesn't include Wall's new salary, which doesn't kick in until 2014-15, or the money still owed to the amnestied Andray Blatche.
The Wizards will go as far as Wall can carry them.
His offensive game is growing quickly, even if a reliable three-point stroke still eludes him (career 24.3 percent). Where Wall should make his biggest stride is at the defensive end. With his size (6'4", 195 lbs) and explosiveness, he should be a perennial All-Defensive Team candidate.
But the numbers say he's nowhere close to that level. He allowed an unsettling 19.3 PER to opposing guards last season. Washington allowed 0.6 points per 100 possessions fewer when Wall was off the court (104.6) than when he was on it (104.0).
This should not be the case. Not with his physical tools, and certainly not with his new contract.
22. LaMarcus Aldridge, PF, Portland Trail Blazers
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 21.1 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.2 blocks, 20.4 PER
Key Adjustment: Improving Glass Work
LaMarcus Aldridge is a two-time All-Star, but he's still not getting all the credit he deserves.
That probably has a lot to do with the team that he plays for.
When the Portland Trail Blazers made postseason trips in 2009 and 2010, it was Brandon Roy (not Aldridge) who was garnering the most attention. By the time Aldridge grabbed the reins in 2011—or rather had them thrown on him by Roy's nagging knee injuries—fans stopped buying Portland's stock after its third straight first-round exit.
The Blazers haven't been back to the Big Dance since. So Aldridge has been celebrated from a distance but rarely moved to center stage.
All Aldridge has been doing is giving the Blazers a steady diet of at least 21 points and eight rebounds in each of the last three seasons. Only five other players have accomplished that feat during that stretch, and none has managed to do it more than once.
But will eight rebounds, or nine even, be enough now that glass cleaner J.J. Hickson has left the franchise? Hickson was good for 10.4 boards in 29.0 minutes a night last season. His replacement, Robin Lopez, has managed more than 8.4 rebounds per 36 minutes just once in his five-year career (9.1 in 2009-10).
If Portland makes its playoff return in 2014, Aldridge will be the one leading it there. Maybe then he'll get his proper due.
21. Al Horford, PF/C, Atlanta Hawks
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.1 blocks, 19.8 PER
Key Adjustment: Getting Selfish
Al Horford would kill to have LaMarcus Aldridge's level of respect. The Atlanta Hawks big man has been slept on for years, having made the last of his two All-Star appearances in 2011.
He has the numbers to warrant more attention. He's held his PER at or above 19.0 in each of the last four seasons.
But he's spent his career on some good, not great, Hawks teams. He didn't have the sexy stats of a Joe Johnson; he didn't give the media something to talk about like former teammate Josh Smith did.
Now it's time for Horford to demand top billing at Philips Arena.
Atlanta made some intriguing additions this summer—landing Paul Millsap, DeMarre Carroll and Elton Brand in free agency, adding Dennis Schröder and Lucas Nogueira on draft night—but no player on this revamped roster moves the needle quite like Horford.
Horford's not a vocal player. His college coach, Billy Donovan, called him "The Godfather," via Skip Myslenski of the Chicago Tribune, for his soft-spoken approach to the hardwood.
But he needs to be more selfish, calling for more touches that he seemingly always turns in to points.
20. Deron Williams, PG, Brooklyn Nets
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.9 points, 3.0 rebounds, 7.7 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.4 blocks, 20.3 PER
Key Adjustment: Sharing the Wealth
Christmas came early for Brooklyn Nets point guard Deron Williams; the 2013 offseason has been a gift that keeps on giving.
It started when the franchise tabbed Jason Kidd, just weeks removed from the close of his 19-year playing career, to take over the head coaching duties.
Kidd's had individual battles with Williams out on the floor, yet the two are close friends off it. He knows what kind of athleticism Williams possesses. Translation: look for him to kickstart this Brooklyn offense that has gone stagnant in recent years (third slowest pace in 2012-13).
And now the season can't start fast enough for Williams, as he excitedly told Bleacher Report's own Jared Zwerling.
Everything's been changing so quickly around him, he may want to slow down and see all of the talent that's now in place. He can light it up with any of today's scoring guards, but earlier in his career, he had a four-year stretch of double-digit assists.
He hasn't averaged more than 8.7 dimes in the last two seasons, but he could probably double that with this roster.
Think the MVP voters would notice that?
19. Joakim Noah, C, Chicago Bulls
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 11.9 points, 11.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.2 steals, 2.1 blocks, 18.1 PER
Key Adjustment: Point-Center
The writing was on the wall, but how many of us were still caught off guard by Joakim Noah's breakout performance in 2012-13?
With Derrick Rose missing in action, Noah had to step up for the undermanned Chicago Bulls.
And boy did he ever. He set career marks nearly across the board: points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.
But it was that bump in distributing duties that should have opened the most eyes. Even with Rose back in the fold, Noah's court vision and basketball IQ makes him an intriguing piece of Chicago's championship puzzle.
He can clean the glass and take that rebound coast-to-coast, leading the Bulls in transition. Put him in the high post, and he has the talent to create his own offense or spot one of Chicago's supercharged slashers.
He helped the injury-riddled Bulls maintain relevance in 2012-13. He'll play just as critical of a role in the Bulls' attempt to remodel the United Center's rafters.
18. Rajon Rondo, PG, Boston Celtics
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 13.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 11.1 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.2 blocks, 18.1 PER
Key Adjustment: Lead His Offense Like Never Before
When Rajon Rondo's 2012-13 campaign abruptly ended with a torn ACL in late January, he left behind a battle-tested Boston Celtics team with (overly optimistic) championship hopes.
Whenever he returns to his squad—CSN New England reported he still doesn't have a time table—it will look nothing like the one he left behind. Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are gone; Brad Stevens, Kelly Olynyk and Gerald Wallace have taken their places.
But Rondo could look even more unrecognizable than that locker room will.
With so many question marks around him, he needs to stop chasing assists and start looking for buckets.
He can score when he's aggressively looking for his own shot. He's poured in at least 20 points in 22 games over the last two seasons, including his brilliant 44-point outburst against the eventual champion Miami Heat in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals.
His court vision and passing skills have put him in the elite class of point guards. But he could crack the superstar ranks if he bolsters that distribution with his own point production.
17. Paul George, SG/SF, Indiana Pacers
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.6 blocks, 16.8 PER
Key Adjustment: Trust the System
With Danny Granger limited to 74 total minutes last season, Paul George tried to pick up the scoring slack for the Indiana Pacers. The result of that experiment was a mixed bag.
A smooth 6'8" athlete with three-point range (36.2 percent in 2012-13), George presents matchup problems for opposing defenses. He's comfortable with the ball in his hands, explosive off the dribble and never loses track of his teammates.
But that versatile skill set left George trying to do too much at times last season.
Indiana's strength rests in its collective talent. The Pacers don't need a superstar to be successful.
George is a vital piece of Indiana's picture moving forward, but he's far from the only one.
16. Kyrie Irving, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 22.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.4 blocks, 21.4 PER
Key Adjustment: Trading Offense for Defense
Kyrie Irving has been playing out of character over the first two seasons of his NBA career.
That hasn't impeded his climb up the superstar ranks. He already has an All-Star appearance and Rookie of the Year award on his hoops resume.
But the point still stands. A floor general who drew pre-draft comparisons to pass-first point guards Mike Conley and Chris Paul, via NBADraft.net, he's been scoring ever since joining the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In his defense, it's been a necessary transformation. He hasn't had the tools to survive as a distributor, so he's decided to thrive as a scorer.
His natural passing gifts should be on full display in 2013-14. He'll have more weapons now than he's ever had with Jarret Jack, Andrew Bynum, Anthony Bennett and Earl Clark joining the fold and another summer of seasoning for Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson.
But Irving will need to put in work to shore up his defensive game.
Last season, the Cavs gave up 2.1 more points per 100 possessions with Irving (111.7) than without him (109.6). Opposing guards enjoyed an 18.1 PER when going against him.
New coach Mike Brown is already stressing the need for team-wide defensive improvement, via Bob Finnan of The Morning Journal. We'll see if Irving gets the message.
15. Dwyane Wade, SG, Miami Heat
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 21.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.8 blocks, 24.0 PER
Key Adjustment: Playing To the Whistle
It's become an all-too-familiar sighting for Miami Heat fans and even more agonizing for their critics.
Dwyane Wade, still one of the league's best talents, willingly taking himself out of the action.
No, this isn't talking about the nagging knee pain that cost him 14 games in 2012-13. This has to do with his constant chirps at the referees when he doesn't hear theirs.
It isn't hard to figure out why he attempts to sway the calls his way. He used to keep officials whistles on a nonstop loop, taking at least 8.6 trips to the free-throw line between 2004 and 2011.
But those foul shots aren't coming anymore, at least not like they used to. He hasn't attempted more than 6.2 in either of the last two seasons.
The problem hasn't been the refs, it's been Wade's lack of aggression. In 2011-12, he attempted 9.0 dunks and layups combined per game. Last season, that figure dipped to just 7.1.
When Wade doesn't get the whistle, he'll sit and plead for the call while the game's going on without him.
It doesn't matter how talented the Miami Heat are. They can't consistently defend against 5-on-4 attacks.
14. Marc Gasol, C, Memphis Grizzlies
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 14.1 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.7 blocks, 19.5 PER
Key Adjustment: Larger Playing Field
If there's a face of the analytics movement, it belongs to Memphis Grizzlies big man Marc Gasol.
By traditional measures, he's a talented player. He's above average in all aspects of his game, but his stat sheet lacks the sexy scoring and rebounding numbers common fans would like to see.
In the analytical world, though, Gasol's a franchise cornerstone.
His floor presence was a net gain of 7.5 points per 100 possessions for the Grizzlies in 2012-13. His impact in the standings was even more staggering. He was good for 11.5 win shares last season, sixth most in the NBA.
The fact that he's such a potent offensive weapon away from the basket has helped Memphis avoid the spacing nightmares that its lack of three-point shooters should have caused. Now that he'll have Mike Miller letting it fly from deep, Gasol will have more room to expand his offense.
He was a 48.5 percent shooter from 16-to-23 feet last season, so he has the talent to move further away from the basket. With more room in front of him, he'll be an even more productive passer.
Throw in the fact that these offensive gifts belong to the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, and it's easy to see why he has so many fans in the numbers world.
13. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 22.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.2 blocks, 21.3 PER
Area to Improve: Scoring Around the Basket
Some guys talk about having in-the-gym range, but Stephen Curry flashes it on a nightly basis.
The son of former NBA sharpshooter Dell Curry, Stephen can pull from anywhere at any time. When he's dialed in from distance, every shot is a good shot.
But one relatively simple aspect of the game remains surprisingly absent from his arsenal: finishing around the rim.
As Curry moves closer to the basket, his efficiency falls.
Beyond the arc, he's already one of the game's greats. In 2012-13, he claimed the top spot on the league's all-time list in most threes made during a single season with his 272 triples. The previous record holder, Ray Allen, shot 41.2 percent from deep during his historic year; Curry hit 45.3 percent of his attempts last season.
He also stayed ahead of the league average marks from 16-to-23 feet (43.7 compared with 38.4) and 10-to-16 feet (45.5 compared with 41.9). But he was just a 33.7 percent shooter from 3-to-10 feet and only converted 59.9 percent of his chances at the rim.
Given how far he pulls defenders from the cup and the fact that his handles could give him a steady stream to the interior, there's so much untapped production for him to find.
12. Tim Duncan, PF/C, San Antonio Spurs
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.8 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 2.7 blocks, 24.4 PER
Key Adjustment: Controlled Dominance
Tim Duncan won't be the first to claim victory over Father Time, but he's at least making things interesting.
In 2012-13—his 16th season in the league—Duncan had his sixth-best scoring year, second-best effort on the glass and finest performance as a rim protector in terms of his per-36-minutes production (21.3 points, 11.9 boards and 3.2 blocks).
Even as he's seemingly defying logic, though, reality has been setting in for the 37-year-old. For the third straight season, he averaged less than 31 minutes a night. He hasn't seen his career average workload (35.1 minutes) since 2003-04.
Credit Gregg Popovich's foresight and Duncan's willingness to trust his coach (even when the rest of us don't) for the future Hall of Famer's staying power.
Expect to see more of the same in 2013-14, which is to say: expect to see less and less of Duncan.
He's too important to this franchise to overwork during the regular season. So the pressure's on him to perform at an elite level in smaller samples, a craft he's been honing over the last decade.
11. James Harden, SG, Houston Rockets
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 25.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.5 blocks, 23.0 PER
Key Adjustment: Sharing, Not Leaving, Center Stage
In case you hadn't heard, James Harden has a new Houston Rockets teammate. Dwight Howard joined the bearded star's squad this summer, and expectations for this franchise have been climbing ever since.
While Howard's chomping at the bit to erase the memories of his "nightmare" (via David Leon Moore of USA Today) season with the Los Angeles Lakers, Harden comes in fresh off a career year.
Away from the looming shadows of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City, Harden grabbed center stage in Houston. He was the fifth best scorer in the league last season and one of only six players to average at least 20 points, five assists and four rebounds. Of that select group, only LeBron James produced more win shares than Harden's 12.8.
He has a superstar teammate aiding the cause this time around, but it's important for Harden to keep himself in the superstar discussion.
He can't play the complementary role that he did for Durant and Westbrook during the first three seasons of his career. He must remain the focal point of Houston's offensive attack, scoring and dishing his way to a second straight All-NBA selection.
10. Kevin Love, PF, Minnesota Timberwolves
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 18.3 points, 14.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.5 blocks, 17.9 PER
Key Adjustment: Blending Offensive Gifts
If any player had a longer 2012-13 season than Dwight Howard, it might have been Kevin Love. Derrick Rose could make his own argument, but at least Rose's frustrations were limited to the practice floor and discussion boards.
Love, however, made his way to the hardwood. Only it wasn't really Kevin Love.
Plagued by a pair of hand fractures and later the buildup of scar tissue that necessitated season-ending surgery, he never had the chance to get his game going. His rebounding numbers were impressive as ever, but his shooting woes attached number values to the pain he was feeling: 35.2 percent from the field, 21.7 percent from distance.
Hopefully healthy enough now to put those headaches behind him, Love will have new weapons in his quest for playoff success. In veteran sniper Kevin Martin, Love finally has a perimeter scorer that demands defensive attention.
Love's shooting numbers could rebound to or even surpass his career slash (.449/.352/.813), but another figure could take off: his assists. Blessed with a high basketball IQ and now shooters and slashers around him, Love could keep defenders' heads spinning with a more selfless approach.
9. Dwight Howard, C, Houston Rockets
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.1 steals, 2.4 blocks, 19.4 PER
Key Adjustment: Keeping Active
Dwight Howard's 2012-13 campaign was troubling to say the least, (more injuries, more free throw problems, another fractured locker room), but one issue should be the most concerning to his new employers, the Houston Rockets.
Howard never bought into Mike D'Antoni's offense. Now, anyone with a workable knowledge of the sport could see that the Los Angeles Lakers weren't built for small ball, but Howard was the one player with the most to gain in that system. A steady diet of pick and roll chances could've worked wonders for the 6'11", 265-pound athletic freak.
But Howard was content just staying in the low post, an area that's never been considered one of his strengths.
Now he moves on to Houston where he joins a properly set small ball roster. With the Rockets gunners firing at will, Howard will have ample opportunity to go head-up with his man on the low block.
But is that really a best-case scenario?
Rather than worrying about real estate near the basket, Howard needs to stay on the move. That means crashing the glass and protecting the rim regardless of how many touches he gets.
It also means setting those same screens he found ways to avoid in L.A. and exploding out of them to let his physical tools do their most damage.
8. Carmelo Anthony, SF/PF, New York Knicks
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 28.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.5 blocks, 24.8 PER
Key Adjustment: Even More Post Work
If not for his trademark arm sleeves and his headband, Carmelo Anthony would have been tough to recognize at a New York Knicks game last season.
Gone were the days of volume scoring and stat padding.
In their place was a remarkably effective low post game that Anthony used to efficiently secure the first scoring crown of his career. It was just the latest in a long line of NBA gifts from Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon.
I liked what I saw last season, but I'm craving for even more in 2013-14.
He's too strong for most wing players to contain and too quick for traditional power forwards. With even more three-pointers set to surround him in 2013-14 (veterans Andrea Bargnani, Metta World Peace and Beno Udrih and rookie Tim Hardaway, Jr.), Anthony should be feasting on the low block.
If he shifts more of the long-range responsibilities onto his teammates—he shattered his previous career high with last season's 6.2 three-point attempts per game—he can continue rewriting his basketball book.
7. Russell Westbrook, PG, Oklahoma City Thunder
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 23.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.3 blocks, 23.9 PER
Key Adjustment: Finding Balance
Few players have their mental approach dissected more than Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook.
As for his mindset, he does fuel his critics fire at times. He's an uncontrolled energy burst, which is no doubt combustible given his leadership role. For my money, though, I'd like to see Westbrook find more balance in his on-court performance.
Depending on the situation, that can mean a lot of different things.
First off, he could still make better use of the players around him. He had the seventh best assist percentage in the NBA for 2012-13 (38.4), but there's room for growth if he wants to capture the title as the league's best point guard.
He's also a bit reckless with his shot selection. His 309 three-point attempts in 2012-13 are concerning, considering he's just a career 30.2 percent shooter from distance, but not as much as the 316 long twos (16-to-23 feet) that he threw up.
There's plenty to like about Westbrook now, but he has some holes in his game that need filling.
6. Tony Parker, PG, San Antonio Spurs
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 20.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.1 blocks, 23.0 PER
Key Adjustment: Expanding His Range
Tony Parker is a San Antonio Spurs superstar. In other words, he's underappreciated by the common fan.
Parker has seamlessly accepted the baton from an aging Tim Duncan and maintained San Antonio's standing as a Western Conference power.
For students of the game, Parker's performances are breathtaking. His understanding of floor spacing and pace is poetry in motion.
But Parker could still stand to expand his offensive range. It's not that he doesn't have a three-point shot (35.3 percent in 2012-13), he just seldom uses it.
Now, his value to San Antonio isn't as a shooter. The Spurs have surrounded Parker and Duncan with an abundance of snipers; they're the backbone of Gregg Popovich's system.
But Parker could maintain his effectiveness while catching a quick breather as a threat from the corner. He's at his best when he's aggressive off the dribble, but he has chances to be more assertive from deep.
5. Derrick Rose, PG, Chicago Bulls
2011-12* Per-Game Stats: 21.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 7.9 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.7 blocks, 23.0 PER
Key Adjustment: Improving Offensive Chances
Derrick Rose's health is obviously the main concern entering 2013-14, but that's been debated ad nauseam over the last year-plus, so I'll spare you that discussion here.
What I'm more anxious to see is how (or if) his game has changed since the last time we saw him in action.
Rose stormed into the league back in 2009 and captured Rookie of the Year with 16.8 points on 47.5 percent shooting. He pushed those numbers further in his sophomore campaign to 20.8 and 48.9, respectively.
By year three, he became the youngest MVP in league history and only the third player in the last decade to average at least 25 points, seven assists and four rebounds. But his field-goal percentage fell to 44.5. By the next season, it was just 43.5.
What's concerning here is the fact that his other shooting numbers have improved over time. The only two seasons of his career with either a 30-plus-percent mark from distance or an 80-plus-percent success rate at the foul line were his last two. He's become a better mechanical shooter, but not as effective of one.
His efficiency should rise on the strength of the improvements his teammates have made in his absence, but he'll need to be more selective with his scoring chances going forward.
4. Kobe Bryant, SG, Los Angeles Lakers
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.3 blocks, 23.0 PER
Key Adjustment: Setting Realistic Expectations
Kobe Bryant will never concede a season. As fierce a competitor as the league has seen since Michael Jordan, Bryant brings championship hopes with him every year.
But he knows as well as anyone that the Los Angeles Lakers lost a lot of weapons (Dwight Howard, Metta World Peace, Earl Clark and Antawn Jamison) over the summer and didn't come close to replacing them with equal value (sorry Chris Kaman and Nick Young fans).
The temptation for Bryant to take over a game, or every game rather, is going to be a constant presence.
But this can't be the 81-point Mamba.
When you glance over L.A.'s roster for 2013-14, it's admittedly hard to see where he will find help. But as a 35-year-old working his way back from a torn Achilles, he can never stop searching for it.
Despite the lost talent, he could be primed to top last season's assist numbers—the best of his legendary 17-year career. He'll have even more defensive attention this season, which means more opportunities to find open teammates.
If he's willing to wager his final contracted year on the collective strength of his teammates, they might surprise him.
3. Chris Paul, PG, Los Angeles Clippers
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 16.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 9.7 assists, 2.4 steals, 0.1 blocks, 26.4 PER
Key Adjustment: Increasing His Appetite
We're a greedy bunch, us basketball fanatics. We watch every season as Chris Paul builds the sixth most efficient career in NBA history, and still we ask for more.
More postseason success and more points.
But it's so hard to shake that feeling when you see Paul in action. His struggles are so rare, it's almost like they never happen.
Do you remember that he shot below 44 percent from the field in each of his first two NBA seasons? Probably not, because he's been converting those chances at a 48.5 percent clip ever since.
With good, but not great, athleticism and a good, but again not great, three-point stroke (career 35.6 percent), Paul finds his magic from his ability to change speed and direction on a dime. With a soft teardrop and silky mid-range jumper (48.3 percent from 10-to-23 feet last season), he's a constant scoring threat.
And he uses that to his advantage. With no way of knowing how or when he's going to strike, defenses have to track his every move. Then one leaves a shooter or another misses a slasher, and suddenly Paul's building on his astounding 4.1-to-1 career assist-to-turnover ratio.
The Los Angeles Clippers had the fourth-best offensive rating in 2012-13 (110.6). But I'm still holding out for something better next season, and it involves a hungrier Paul.
2. Kevin Durant, SF, Oklahoma City Thunder
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 28.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.3 blocks, 28.3 PER
Key Adjustment: (Another) Labor-Intensive Offseason
Kevin Durant could have stopped working after his rookie season and he'd still be in the All-Star discussion. He averaged 20.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.0 steals that year, a well-rounded stat sheet that only six players matched in 2012-13.
But Durant didn't stop there. He's been adding to his game ever since.
He's endured two weeks of hellacious training with four-time MVP LeBron James. The result has been a more efficient, two-way version of Durant than the league had previously seen. He's matched or set career marks in assists, blocks, field-goal percentage and PER in each of the last two seasons.
He'll need to follow James' lead and put in even more time on the low block. After torching defenders for 61.3 percent shooting from inside of 10 feet during the 2012-13 season, he's found a new gift worth exploiting at any and every opportunity.
It's hard to pin-point his ceiling because he's such a unique specimen.
If he keeps improving his defense and low-post game, it won't be long before he finally shakes that label of being second best.
1. LeBron James, SF/PF, Miami Heat
2012-13 Per-Game Stats: 26.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.9 blocks, 31.6 PER
Key Adjustment: Figuring Out His Free Throws
LeBron James is running awfully short on weaknesses.
Critics claimed he couldn't shoot, but that was debunked with last season's 40.6 percent performance from beyond the arc. Detractors said he'd never win the big game, but he has two Larry O'Brien NBA Championship trophies and a pair of Finals MVP awards to show for the last two postseasons.
So where do you find a hole in his game now? He's a top-tier performer in nearly every facet of the sport: scoring, rebounding, distributing and defending.
But there's still one thing he needs to shore up, although it's far from being a disaster.
James is a 74.7 percent foul shooter for his career. He ranked outside of the top-80 in free-throw shooting in 2012-13.
It isn't a dire problem, but he is leaving quite a few points unclaimed. He shot 7.0 free-throws a game last season, tied for the sixth most attempts in the league. But he was one of only three players in the top-10 who converted less than 80 percent of his chances.
He's noticed the problem. He told NBA.com's Couper Moorhead that his "next goal" is shooting at least 80 percent from the charity stripe.
Something tells me he'll hit that mark. Betting against the King is always a bad decision.